Like most of us, he entered that “magic phase” of childhood when we aspire to be the next Harry Houdini or David Copperfield. Perhaps an older sibling or cousin awed us with a magic trick. We felt empowered when they later shared with us how to perform the trick, swearing us to secrecy. After entering this secret club, we wanted to awe and impress others. Every fourth grade talent show has at least one magician performing card tricks and disappearing coins. And then most of us grow out of this stage, moving onto more practical and marketable pursuits.
But Ryan stuck with his passion for magic, finding a way to serve others with it. During his time at Gonzaga, he learned about hope while majoring in psychology, volunteering at Sacred Heart Children’s hospital, studying abroad in El Salvador, and participating in two service trips to L.A. with Homeboy Industries. I accompanied Ryan and other GU students on a trip to the SOA in 2009 and so I recently talked to him about his passion for magic.
Asked about his work as a hospital volunteer and why he shared his magic with the children, Ryan said:
To extend the realm of possibility and instill a sense of hope in one another. This gives me joy and hope as much as it does them. We all suffer in one way or another, that is universal. When such deep suffering is met with acceptance, compassion, and love, it turns to existential hope and a sense of ease that regardless of what happens, everything will be OK.
He attributes his Jesuit education for instilling deep gratitude for the blessings in his life, including his supportive parents. In response, he feels a “sense of social responsibility to serve and accompany those who do not have such fortune with their ‘parent selection.’”
After graduation, Ryan received a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Bogotá, Colombia. Here he founded a sustainable magic project on behalf of Magicians Without Borders, which not only entertains children, but also educates and empowers them. He plans to continue a similar program in Mumbai, India. In a recent MSNBC interview, Ryan explains how this project not only instills hope, but also self-esteem, discipline, confidence and practical skills that are transferable to the work world.
Houdini is credited as saying, “In certain circumstances, magic not only amazes and amuses but inspires hope that the impossible is possible.”
Some may dismiss magic as a waste of time and money, but Ryan and others have found the opposite. God works through our passions and by pursuing their passions Ryan and others have brought hope and joy to children all over the world.
Editor’s note: learn more and help support Ryan’s project here.
Image courtesy Ryan Bart (via John Shea, SJ)