If you’ve ever walked by the Bell Tower on a Friday afternoon, you’ve probably seen Pat Donlevy.
He’s the guy who stands near Paley Library holding his trusty bible and firing off his interpretations of biblical scriptures at passers-by. But, he’s not as abrasive as he seems.
Donlevy is often accompanied by his friend Chuck Harrison, who holds a sign intended to lure people into conversation. It reads: “Are You Going to Heaven? Free tests.”
Week after week, Donlevy and Harrison try to spread Christianity, but both students and professors say their words are falling on annoyed, deaf ears.
It’s no secret these men have apprehension about coming out and braving the elements and, often times, jeers.
Harrison provided an analogy for how he and Donlevy feel.
“It’s like when you see a good movie or get a really good deal at a restaurant, you just want to tell your friends about it,” he said.
Sophomore secondary education major Ray Dussault said there are better ways to inform students about Christianity.
“I’ve got nothing against them, it’s even kind of funny,” Dussault said. “Although, I know if I really liked a movie, I’m not going to stand on the corner and yell at people.”
Some students said they don’t enjoy being told they’re hell-bound sinners on their way to class.
Christine Martin, a sophomore university studies major, said she’s “not going to convert with some guy at the Bell Tower.”
“All he’s doing is annoying people, and it’s pointless because he’s shoving it down our throats,” Martin said. “If I wanted to change religions, then I’d research it myself.”
Despite students’ reactions, Donlevy said some people consider what he and Harrison preach.
“When students come over to us, they know what they are going to get, and most of their minds are wide open,” Harrison said. “Hearts get harder over time. We need a place where young people are because they haven’t become set in their ways yet.”
Dussault, however, disagrees.
“I think by this time in life, most people have decided on their identities,” he said.
Harrison, who has been preaching on college campuses for 10 years, said that’s the reason he carries the “Are You Going to Heaven?” sign.
It comes as no surprise to junior university studies major Emmanuella Jean-Ulysse that some people disagree with Harrison’s and Donlevy’s teachings.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” Jean-Ulysse said. “Even though I’m very religious, I don’t believe in forcing people. They are just too aggressive.”
Being chosen to spread God’s word has led Harrison to declare Christianity as the “correct” religion.
Students find some of their views to be too controversial.
“If Christ were to come down today, He would find only 4 to 5 percent Christians,” Harrison said. “Most pastors in churches on Sunday are leading their congregations straight into hell.”
Jean-Ulysse said Harrison’s views are unjustified.
“You just can’t say that,” she said. “It’s way too general.”
Susan Bertolino, a professor of Mosaic I and II Humanities Seminars, agrees with Jean-Ulysse.
“It is counterproductive,” Bertolino said. “It’s just not conducive to student morale to be told they are going to hell on a weekly basis.”
Bertolino compares the men’s open-air preaching with the anti-abortion exhibits that came to campus last year, saying both are “in-your-face.”
She said even if some people agree with the message being sent, others may find it offensive and forceful.
“I find it annoying and feel as though people should believe in their God out of love rather than the fear of punishment,” Bertolino said.
Still, Donlevy and Harrison remain steadfast in their sentiments that they’re making a difference.
“It doesn’t seem like it, but we really are,” Donlevy said. “There is a certain excitement about sharing the word with others. There is nothing irrational about it at all. No matter how bad a day goes out here, I never regret doing it.”
Students might wonder what prompted these two men on a freelance holy quest.
For Donlevy, it was being diagnosed with a form of terminal cancer in his early 20s.
“I just started thinking about my life, picked up a Bible and started reading,” he said. “That’s when I turned to God and said, ‘You are my master and savior.’”
Donlevy and Harrison believe they are doing the will of God, and they were chosen to preach His word.
It was a little different for his partner in preaching, who didn’t receive the call until he was 37 at a Bible study group he was invited to.
“I had a six-figure salary, lived on the Main Line, was a deacon for my church and played tennis daily on real grass tennis courts,” Harrison said, “but something was missing from my life, and I felt like I was living for sin.”
Dussault said the men’s teachings about Christianity promote the university’s religious tolerance.
“Tolerance is one of Temple’s biggest points,” Dussault said. “It’s the whole diversity thing.”
Being constantly ignored by unsupportive students, Donlevy and Harrison are courageous when speaking to passers-by about their beliefs.
“You’ve got to be careful,” Donlevy said. “There might be some strange coconuts out there.”
John A. Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.