Fr Ger Godley, a name most fitting for a priest, has sparked the interest of many because of his bewildering magical talents. All starting with a magic set that he received for Christmas when he was a child, the native-born Kerryman has pursued the craft that has brought fame to legends such as Paul Daniels, David Copperfield and Tommy Cooper.
The second-eldest of seven children, Fr Ger who attended secondary school in Tralee and later in St Patrick’s College, was ordained in 1981 and has been active in both Kenya and in the Diocese of Kerry. When asked why he became a priest, Ger replied that many people in his school would have considered the vocation, but personally, he wanted to “help people and give back to the community in some way”. He further added that his “sense of spirituality was important” and his understanding of faith has been “deepened” and “enriched” over time.
Alongside his attraction to religion, Ger also mentioned that the art of magic was a formative part of his youth. His love for magic initially began when his grandfather would perform tricks such as cutting and restoring a piece of rope.
As a devout family, they also often offered hospitality to missionaries such as the Capuchins who would stay at the guesthouse and show some sleight-of-hand to Ger. Combined with a children’s encyclopaedia and a few tricks that he received at Christmas, Ger has honed his magical skills, becoming an adept and well-rounded entertainer.
Influenced by other Irish magicians such as Patrick Page and Billy McComb, Fr Ger performs classic illusions such as the linking rings or the colour-changing handkerchief and continues to learn at Southern Brotherhood of Magicians in Cork, of which he is a member.
Over the years, perfecting his art has required both patience and practice, especially before the days of YouTube where his primary sources of information were books.
“It was a time when you ordered from a hard copy catalogue and waited for the parcel to arrive by post- no instant downloads,” he says.
This older style of learning is a clear testimony to his dedication and passion to the ancient craft. His particular field of magic requires props and sleight-of-hand, a path which he conscientiously chose to avoid mind-reading or psychic displays that would prevent any misconceptions about his abilities.
Fr Ger further went on to say that although some evangelisers often integrate magic into their sermons, he prefers to keep the two professions separate. Instead he uses the art form to connect with people in his diocese which complements his studies in community development and his interest in community youth work. Magic acts as a “good icebreaker”, he says, which helps him to connect with young people in conjunction with his work delivering magic workshops for a variety of organisations e.g. youth services, family resource centres and community development groups.
“The purpose of the workshops is to empower young people through the medium of magic. By participating in the workshop, the young person learns new skills as well as develops personally and socially,” he says.
When asked whether anyone has ever been hostile to his magic because of his priestly vocation, he replied that everyone he performs for understands that it is only for fun and entertainment, and that he never claims to possess mystical or hidden powers. However, on one particular occasion, when presenting a workshop in a Mercy School in Kenya, he had to explain how he magically removed one of his fingers after the entire room of 60 people fled out the doors, and even windows, after seeing his performance.
Although magic remains a passion for Fr Ger, he’s grateful not to be a full-time magician. He says that he would not want his “hobby to become work”, and is excited to pursue the priestly ministry and his work with the diocese’s Pastoral Development Team, which is based in the John Paul II Pastoral Centre in Killarney, with magic continuing to remain another important part of his life.
He did, however, maintain that priests should be given more opportunities to develop their talents such as singing or playing guitar. As a result, the clergy will be enabled to interact with the laity through innovative and attractive ways.
This will allow for the possibility of communities and parishes to become more enriched and stronger connections to be established between priest and laity.
This is especially pertinent in regards to the younger generation whose presence within the Church is in continual decline.
Priests are people with interests outside of their vocation. Fr Ger is an example of how nurturing one’s own talents in an ecclesial background can lead to a more fulfilling profession, and he will continue to inspire the people of Tralee, with both his sermons and his silks.