Teacher Feature: Dr. Patrick Nolan

Melissa Leach

Once a writer for The Villanovan, Dr. Nolan penned many articles. Who knew that years later he’d be the subject of one?

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” -William Shakespeare.

Teaching requires more than just knowledge of your subject, more than just a doctoral degree in your field. It requires thinking outside the box of reality and into the vast open space of imagination. Great teaching inspires even the most uninterested to be moved in a new way. It is a great teacher who strives to make the material come alive in the classroom, to move away from the academics and go deeper, to make the literature relevant, to make the material a lived experience.

Dr. Patrick Nolan is not afraid of greatness. In fact, he has sought after it for decades. His creativity in and out of the classroom can be seen not only in the awards that hang proudly from his walls, but also in the stories of those who have been touched by the power of his knowledge. It is a rare gift to have influenced people the way Nolan has for so many years, and it is a rare occurrence to be a student who is privileged to be in the presence of such greatness.

As a part of the Villanova family, first as a student and now as a professor, Nolan has left an indelible mark on this community. With his colorful mind, Nolan has painted portraits of reality for his students that are bold enough to last a lifetime. His hard work and patience have enriched the lives of many in and out of the classroom and embodied the values and mission of this University.

His career as a professor can be summed up by the accolades he has received from his students over the years. One particular student of Nolan’s took the initiative to make a proclamation that still stands fresh in his mind today. She was the wife of a rabbi who had taken Nolan for several graduate and undergraduate courses. “She was one of the finest women I’ve ever met in my life,” said Nolan. When she stood up in the front of class she said: “You know you have the ideal teacher.” Nolan smirks as he recalls the memory and makes quick note: “I swear I did not pay her to say that!”

But what does make Nolan the ideal teacher? To him it is clear and concise. “I just try to explain the material in ways that are relevant to the social setting, political climate and national culture that exist right now. I try to expand on those ideas for hours,” Nolan says.

A present student of Nolan’s, Junior Kelly Lobb, raves about the interest he sparks in her and her classmates. “Dr. Nolan has an amazing ability to tell stories, she said. “He brings real life experiences into the classroom and makes you as a student want to listen.”

One of the most humbling moments of Nolan’s career came when he received a call from a professor at Temple University. The professor, whose father had been taking Nolan’s class, was relaying a message on her father’s behalf. She told him quite simply, “My father wanted you to know that you made it easier for him to die.” Nolan noted, “That was the greatest single teaching moment I ever had, humbling me and leaving me speechless. I’ve had some great moments with classes, but that stunned me. It stopped me right in my tracks.”

After a moment such as that, it is hard to imagine that there could possibly be something more monumental in his life. However, Nolan didn’t just touch the lives of those in the classroom, but those outside of the classroom as well.

On March 18, 1979, “The Jericho Mile” starring Peter Strauss premiered worldwide on ABC-TV. Nolan wrote “The Jericho Mile” over a 12-year period, then sold it to ABC in 1972. In a 1979 interview done by The Villanovan, Nolan stated, “The story is of the interrelationships between a man and groups in prison, and the way in which his potential causes the prison to reorganize and redefine its potential.”

The idea came to life when he was at the University of Detroit looking for a break from his studies. He came across the an article about an inmate who ran close to a four-minute mile. It took Nolan six years to get the play plotted and get the story right, but he knew it was a success from the time the pen hit the paper.

The worldwide premiere was only the beginning of the film’s success. One of the most prestigious awards of Nolan’s career came in September of 1979 when “The Jericho Mile” won an Emmy for best screenplay, limited series or special. “I knew it was going to win, until the day I found out who the competition was: “Roots” and “Backstairs at the White House.” That made the win especially exciting,” said Nolan. “Roots” and “Backstairs” were two very highly acclaimed television specials.

But shock overtook Nolan when the envelope was opened and the winner was announced. He accepted his award, claiming, “This is almost as exciting as marking freshman English papers at Villanova University.”

The emotions were running through him like electricity: “When that applause starts and you go up, especially when you’re outside the system, when you’re outside the network of Hollywood, that was a good high. I didn’t need too many drinks that night,” Nolan said. “The Jericho Mile” was an enormous critical as well as popular success and to this day it remains the most sought-after made-for-TV films in history.

Today, Nolan finds himself still challenged by his work and by his students. Currently he is immersed in 16 different projects, and shows no signs of settling down. The portrait Nolan has painted of his life is not one that runs from greatness, but one the goes out and grabs it.

Dr. Patrick Nolan has achieved greatness. He has not only brought to life his own characters and those of other writers. He has also brought to life the minds of every student that has passed through his classroom on his/her own road to greatness.