A library of legacy

Theological, writer, professor posthumously donates library to Egyptian seminary

December 19, 2013

CAIRO

When theologian, professor and writer William Placher died in 2008, he left behind a legacy of generosity, education and mission — and books. Lots of books. 

That legacy — and those books — will live on at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt (ETSC). Placher posthumously donated a large portion of his library to the seminary, making his gift the largest gift of books from overseas the seminary has received in the past 15 years. And because the library came from a working theologian, the books received are current, relevant and fill a significant deficit in the library’s holdings. 

Placher, who had taught at Wabash College Crawfordsville, Ind., for 34 years, was in the middle of a one-year appointment as a writer-in-residence at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., at the time of his death. He was working on a theological commentary on the Gospel of Mark. 

Placher had designated that whatever books in his extensive library that couldn’t be used by Wabash should go to a theological institution overseas. He put Raymond Williams, his good friend and colleague at Wabash in charge of finding a home for his library. 

“Bill was passionate about the church’s need for an educated clergy and an educated laity,” Williams said. “He suggested that his theological library be sent to a theological school abroad to be a resource for educating a new generation of leaders.”

Williams searched for a theological school with a strong history and potential for expanding education at a critical time and location for the church.

“The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo is clearly an excellent place for Bill’s gift to help continue his work of educating clergy and laity for the gospel mission,” Williams said. “The fact that the seminary has a Presbyterian foundation made it seem appropriate, even providential.”

Williams visited ETSC in 2010, and with significant logistical help from the Theological Book Network, the donation finally arrived in Egypt in the fall of 2012. It was fully catalogued by the spring of 2013 and has turned out to be a substantial contribution to the seminary’s holdings. 

“Receiving books from abroad is not easy and very expensive for us. So to find someone interesting in that, that is a blessing for us,” said Fouad Shaker, the seminary’s head librarian. “Also he is not just someone but a theologian well known and dedicated to the proclamation of the truth of the Bible in applying to our daily life. That is an act we really appreciate.” 

ETSC was founded in 1863 by Presbyterian missionaries who sailed a houseboat up and down the Nile from Assuit in Upper Egypt to Cairo in the north. The seminary has been at its current location on the east side of Cairo since 1926. During its 150-year history, ETSC has established itself as a beacon of academic excellence, pastoral training and church leadership development, not just for Egypt but throughout the Arab world. 

A major partner with Presbyterian World Mission, the seminary provides the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a connection not just to the ancient and historical Christian church in Egypt but to the historic legacy of Presbyterian mission and its priority for theological education throughout the world. 

David Dobson, vice president of publishing at Westminster/John Knox Press, which published Placher’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, reflected on Placher’s legacy: “Bill is remembered for his clear and compelling writing but also for his teaching. He often used his sabbaticals to teach at other schools and was honored by the American Academy of Religion in 2002 with their Excellence in Teaching Award. We are delighted to know that Bill’s books — those he authored as well as those he studied and taught from — will live on with a new generation of students.” 

Just this fall a final addition to Placher’s donation has made its way to the seminary — his commentary on the Gospel of Mark.

  1. I believe my Grandmother, a widow, and a trained librarian,worked in this library in 1945-1946. She was invited there, "to reorganize the library" by a Dr. McClanahan. She writes about the work in her memoirs. She had plan to stay for 3 years, and had a contract with the mission board, but had to come back to the states after two years, to take care of her son who was injured in Taipei. She had to pay her own way home. She described the 2nd floor of the library and the cleaning, cataloguing and arranging in a systematic way the glass cases. She also, said that she had to manage a club of young married men who were there to finish their studies, while their wives were still in the U.S.

    by D'Arcy Baird Arpke

    May 26, 2014

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