Traveling preachers stir controversy

The Daily Collegian, Penn State/September 22, 2006
By Caitlin O'Malley

A family of traveling preachers was confronted yesterday by a student who called the family "cult leaders" and accused them of influencing Andrea Yates to drown her five children in a bathtub in 2001.

Outside the Sackett and Willard buildings, Michael Woroniecki, his wife and their six children distributed pamphlets, held large banners with biblical sayings and carried a life-sized cross while speaking about Jesus to a sometimes hostile audience.

Nathan Jones (senior-biochemistry and molecular biology) handed out flyers that said the Woronieckis' teachings led Yates to kill her children "to prevent them from going to hell."

Yates was originally convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2002. Her conviction was overturned, and in July she was found to be legally insane at the time of the murders.

Michael Woroniecki said he met Yates' husband, Rusty, while preaching at Auburn University, years before the couple was married. He said he has no followers and met Yates herself only "three to five times."

He would not comment further.

Jones said the last time the family visited campus they called him a "fag" when he challenged them.

"I don't like religion in general because I'm an atheist, but I especially hate people who preach their religion in the wrong way," Jones said.

Jones said he disagrees with the preachers' belief that everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus will go to hell and that people don't need to go to college or hold jobs.

The family yelled to students, "God didn't create people to learn to regurgitate information, work an 8 to 5 and live the rat race."

Most students, however, did not appear receptive to the messages.

Passers-by shouted back "shut up" and "I already love Jesus!" Others paused to take pictures of the banners with camera phones.

Few took the pamphlets or stopped to listen.

Colleen Karba (senior-psychology) said she didn't like the preachers' absolutist views on who will go to hell.

"It's fine if you believe it, but I don't think people should push their religion on other people," she said.

Zach Butler (senior-agronomy) said he thought the family's judgment of people was against Christ's teachings.

"They think they are doing the right thing," he said. "I think they are a little misguided."

Michael Woroniecki, a former football player for Central Michigan University, said he comes to colleges looking for students like himself.

"After a while you get tired of partying, and you think there's just got to be more than this," he said.

He later graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary, he said, but was turned off by the hypocrisy of "talking about Jesus and living for the world."

Instead of becoming a Catholic priest, he began his 30-year preaching journey. He now opposes organized religion.

"American Christianity is about one hour on Sunday, but you must be born again and worship God every day of your life," he said.

The family reached Penn State after preaching in Boise, Idaho. They recently preached at Michigan University, Notre Dame University and the University of Akron and are headed to New York, the family said.

The Woronieckis said they return to Penn State because it has a big student body that is more receptive of their message than other schools.

"U of M is huge too, but it's as hard as a rock," Michael Woroniecki added. "At Penn State we always get a varied response."

The family seemed used to the controversy that surrounded them.

"We tell people they are going to hell, and they don't like it," Michael Woroniecki said.

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