Julian and Adrian Riester were known as two quiet, unassuming identical twins who both became Franciscan friars. So it is ironic that their story is now being told worldwide.
Born minutes apart 92 years ago, they both died of heart failure June 1 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., within 15 hours of each other.
“It really is almost a poetic ending to the remarkable story of their lives,” Tom Missel, a St. Bonaventure spokesman told The Associated Press. The Riester twins spent much of their lives at St. Bonaventure University, in Allegany, N.Y., where they lived as friars who did carpentry work and various works around the community. “Stunning when you hear it, but hardly surprising given that they did almost everything together.”
The Buffalo News website says as World War II drew to a close, the twins made an agreement to reply to whichever offer came first – a draft notice into the Army or an acceptance from the Franciscans. The morning mail brought an invitation to join the friars and the afternoon mail “greetings” from the draft board.
They told reporters later that God’s call took priority.
Br. Daniel P. Horan, OFM, who is a lecturer in the department of religious studies at Siena College (Albany, N.Y.) and the author of a book coming out in 2012 called Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the Next Generation, joined the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province in 2005 after graduating from St. Bonaventure University. He has known the Riester twins since 2001 and he prayed with them each weekday morning as a college student.
He says one memory of the twins that stays with him is of a conversation that took place in the early 2000s between the Riesters had, Horan and a few other young men at St. Bonaventure who were considering becoming Franciscan friars. The twins shared their “vocation story,” detailing how difficult life was for them as young friars while at the same time finding a way to remain true to their calling.
“Before the Second Vatican Council in the early-to-mid 1960s, Roman Catholic religious orders were segregated ... between ‘the ordained’ (the friars who were priests) and the ‘lay brothers’ (the non-ordained friars),” Horan told The Christian Post. “The priests were often more educated and had the equivalent of what we might consider ‘professional’ or ‘white-collar jobs,’ while the lay brothers were those who often entered after high school and learned a trade, working more ‘blue-collar jobs.’”
“They had separate recreation rooms, separate rules and regulations and the like,” Horan explained. “During those early years, the Riester brothers suffered some real hardships and discrimination even within their own religious community (that would all change for the last 50 years of their lives when the Franciscans moved to live the egalitarian community lifestyle that we profess to live). What amazed me was, in light of the hardships and discrimination, they remained committed to their lives of prayer, ministry and work.”
Horan added, “Most of us college-age men listening to their stories in the early 2000s were shocked and each in turn said that he didn’t think he would ever stick around to be treated that way, yet Julian and Adrian always felt that it was God who had called them to this way of life and it was for God that they stayed. They were holy men indeed, always at prayer, always smiling and greeting everyone with a spirit of Franciscan joy.”
Horan said the twins were master carpenters – often crafting and giving Br. David Haack, OFM, an art professor at St. Bonaventure, handmade frames for his canvases. And for decades Horan said the Riesters drove visiting friars and others to and from the Buffalo airport or train station, which is about an hour and a half away from Allegany.
“They were hard workers and dedicated men,” Horan said.