The Rev. Daniel Rolland is a magician and a Catholic priest – and he’s able to do both at the same time.
I’m a priest who uses magic to illustrate spiritual truth," said Rolland, a Dominican priest who on July 1 will begin a yearlong sabbatical from the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center at the University of Arizona to travel the country and work on a lighthearted performance called "The Spiritual Magic of Father Daniel."
Magic is a medium to convey a message. Reason is set aside," he said. "It touches on a deep level to remind us that things are possible."
Rolland, a 40-year-old Scottsdale native who became a Dominican priest at age 29, has been practicing magic since he was 8 and though mixing the priesthood and magic may sound like sacrilege to some, he has never found a conflict.
Rather, his magic has turned into ministry. He counts among his friends many neo-Pagans, including Druids and Wiccans.
I thought it was just bizarre when I first heard about it," said Renee Schafer Horton, a 46-year-old Tucsonan who attends the Newman Center, 1615 E. Second St., with her husband and four children, ages 16 to 22.
" Then when I saw what he does. He does some really amazing things. He takes Christian concepts of forgiveness, redemption and new life and amazingly makes that into magic and puts it on a level that everyone can understand."
Rolland cuts ropes in half and makes them whole again. He turns on light bulbs without any electricity and has made fire appear and vanish. He asks a visitor to look at his hand, which he shakes until his solemn vows ring moves from his middle finger to his ring finger. His congregants have seen him burn articles about violence and suffering in the world and turn them into falling snowflakes.
I like the way he is able to incorporate spirituality with magic," said 20-year-old Abraham Jimenez, a UA sophomore who also attends the Newman Center. "My favorite is the one where he uses rubber bands and talks about boundaries. I like what he has to say."
Holding two rubber bands – one inside another that he holds between his thumb and forefinger – Rolland moves the inner rubber band around, explaining that sometimes we get ourselves into situations when we think we are free but we’re not. Boundaries prevent us from being all we can be, he says, showing that the inner band is is constrained by both the outer band and his hand. But then the magic happens: One rubber band appears to move right through the other and it is no longer constrained. Why? Jesus, he says, sets us free.
Rolland’s Catholic faith weighs heavily on how he practices magic – he doesn’t use any animals because he views any magic that makes animals disappear as a symbolic act of destroying life. Similarly, he will never saw anyone in half.
It looks odd for a priest to be putting knives into people – it’s an unsettling image," he said. "I want to be a positive influence for the church. The priesthood is part of who I am."
Indeed Rolland’s magic is fun, but it’s also a way to illustrate serious concepts from the Bible. The past two years, he has been performing his one-hour-and-15- minute spiritual magic show at local churches and for youth groups to a warm reception. His travel plans include a stop at the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, which is in Germany this year.
The favorite trick of progressive magicians is "make the population of a convent disappear." Of course many modern church architects also give it a go with “make the tabernacle and kneelers disappear.”