The Rev. Daniel Rolland was a magician before he was a priest. Way before.
“I started studying magic when I was 8, and I just loved it,” said Rolland, director of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Newman Center at UNLV.
Rolland brought his magic prowess to Sunday’s Mass and Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, where the theme was “Magic with a Meaning.”
The Dominican priest, who also trained at Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School, has been the director of the Newman Center for more than a year and half, after being at Stanford and other universities before coming to Las Vegas. Combining his love for working with students and the broader community, being here felt like the perfect fit, he said.
“Little did I know I would actually get the opportunity,” Rolland said. “I really wanted to be here.”
His biggest magic trick, performed at the end of the feast, featured a rope that was separated and made whole again by the love of the event’s honorary king and queen, Joseph and Constance Micatrotto, co-founders of the Micatrotto Restaurant Group and active members of the Catholic community.
Rolland started using magic as a way to capture the imagination of churchgoers during sermons on topics such as Pentecost — where he would throw fire into the air to demonstrate the tongues of fire.
“I would work some magic into my preaching just as an attention grabber,” Rolland said. “It’s the idea of a whole magic show where the magic is married with meaning — so it’s all a message.”
While magic adds to the novelty of the feast, Rolland said the event also was designed to draw attention to a fundraising campaign for a new church building.
“Our total goal is $2.5 million, but we need just $2 million to build the church building itself,” said Rhoel Ternate, the Newman Center’s director of development.
The current chapel seats 80 people comfortably, but there’s not enough space to host various events and Masses during holidays. Plans for the 5,000-square-foot addition include a 340-seat chapel that Ternate hopes will attract more students as it increases recognition for the center on campus.
“We are hoping that things like the Feast of St. Thomas will attract more visibility with Joe and Connie that will help bring in some donations,” Ternate said.
“The building is going to elevate us physically and spiritually,” said Paul Fromherz, 25, a senior at UNLV and a parishioner. “You’ll actually be able to see it from other parts of campus.”
Rebecca Hobby, 22, a recent UNLV graduate, said having a chapel on campus is important. “It has been my second home while I’ve been at school here.”
It’s been nearly a decade since fundraising began for a new chapel.
“We are about $800,000 away from the new church,” Ternate said. “But we are hoping to get that and break ground soon.”
Fundraising aside, Rolland’s requirement for a successful feast is people enjoying themselves.
“It is celebrating St. Thomas but it’s also celebrating our presence here on campus and our need for the church,” he said. “I think my ultimate goal is for everybody to have fun.”