The Willard Preacher’s Most Memorable Moments
No matter where you stand, there’s no arguing that Gary Cattell (aka The Willard Preacher) is one of the most talked-about, controversial figures at Penn State. For more than 30 years, the Preacher has paced back and forth in front of the Willard Building, projecting the word of his Christian faith to everyone and anyone who will listen or, well, walk by really.
The Willard Preacher has encountered various people for a multitude of reasons during his time on the steps. From those wanting to learn more about religion to those who tell Cattell where he can shove his religion, things are seldom dull for the man in the red sweatshirt.
Personal feelings about the man aside, there seems to be a certain aura of importance surrounding the Preacher that can’t be taken for granted. After all, this man has been up close and personal with students, faculty, and local residents through it all. Football national championships in the 80s? Check. The Sandusky era? He was here. He’s been around for Reagan, both Bush’s, (potentially) both Clinton’s, and Obama. He’s a Penn State mainstay, to say the least.
So what are his most memorable moments over the years from his perch on Pattee Mall? We caught up with Mr. Cattell to hear the good, the bad, and the weird from his point of view.
“There was an Atheist guy who used to hang around and it was almost like he thought I was from a different world or something. He was just laughing at me, you could really tell he didn’t believe it. He was kind of mocking and what not. So, he finally came up to me once and had a respectful conversation about my viewpoints and he went on. The next time he came back, he was kind of shaken. He started off saying ‘Wow, last night…last night I had a very vivid dream about going to hell.’ And so, we talked a little bit more about religion and about his dream. The next time I saw him, he came up to me and told me he had found God and was a Christian. I actually think he ended up teaching here for a little bit after he graduated.”
Though Cattell couldn’t remember the name of the student, it’s an interesting story that proves his preaching doesn’t all go unreciprocated.
“The biggest thing that happened to me by far was that I got into a months-long debate back in the fall of ’98 and into the spring of ’99 with a Roman Catholic grad student and an Eastern Orthodox undergrad. I was Protestant at the time. I said something that irritated both of them and they both came up to me. This was in March I believe. The Orthodox undergrad said, ‘Find me this idea that the Bible is the sole authority of Christianity in the Bible,’ which is a basic Protestant belief. And no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find it. At that point, I knew Protestantism was on shaky grounds. If you can’t find that basic of an idea in the Bible, then that’s a problem. So over time I started looking into Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and actually converted from Protestantism to Orthodoxy because of that. That was a pretty major event out here. People who have come out here who are Catholic or Protestant, especially since I became Orthodox, would get into conversations and they would become Orthodox.”
Talk to the Willad Preacher. You might just make him change his beliefs.
“I had a different group of guys come to me this past Friday (October 21), I guess they were up here for the game, and they said ‘Oh hey, we were here in the late ’90s. We can’t believe you’re still here,’ and they even brought up things that they had heard that they still remembered after all of those years. It stuck with them after all that time. That has happened before, but it is still pretty surreal to hear that. I guess things like that are what I remember as more positive.”
Like him or love him, Cattell is a bona fide campus legend.
The Not So Good
“You know, homosexuals have their Coming Out Week now, but it used to be just one day here I believe. And it used to be held right across the way over by Schwab Auditorium. There would be a huge crowd of protestors over here. Police would come out to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. People were climbing up the light posts up to about 10-12 feet just to see what was going on. Once in a while, some of them would come over to have a little debate. This one time they did that, I got into a pretty good debate with a young lesbian. Finally, by the end, she said ‘Gary, it’s all about love. You have to understand and feel that,’ and then she slapped me. I thought that was…well, an interesting way of expressing love.”
She certainly did her best to make you really feel that love.
“One thing that is weird to me but isn’t really a surprise is every year around Halloween. I normally see a few costumed Satans pop up around here, and will come down and debate me and what not. That normally draws a big crowd, but again not shocking. Just odd.”
Screw the college football playoff, this is the matchup we deserve: The Willard Preacher versus Satan.
“The feminists and other student organizations will come out from time to time and set up a table right near me and pass out condoms. Of course, with the comments I’ve made about my opinions on sex and condoms, people will come up to me and ask me to sign theirs. I tell them I’ll sign it repent or something like that. Autographs in general are weird, but those always seem especially different to me.”
A Trace McSorley autographed football? Eh, maybe. A Willard Preacher signature on a Trojan packet? A Penn State memento in its own right.
Have any of your own Willard Preacher memories? Share with us in the comments.
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About the Author
Halloween fun returns to Penn State with the Arboretum’s annual Pumpkin Festival.
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