The story of the two 92-year-old twin Franciscan Brothers from St. Bonaventure's in Olean, New York, who died on the same day, has been all over the Internet. But Dan Barry shows the difference between reporting a story and telling one. In a beautiful article about two beautiful lives, Barry is especially good on the antiquated "caste system" that had long characterized religious orders, including the Jesuits. More importantly, Barry is good at conveying the "hidden life" of holiness that today's Gospel recommends.
They were like paired birds of Franciscan brown. If Brother Julian was gardening in front of the friary, Brother Adrian weeded in the back. If Adrian was driving the van, Julian sat by his side. Preparing the altar for chapel, chopping wood for kindling, exulting in ice cream at the Twist & Shake, the identical Riester twins were together, always.
For many years at my alma mater, St. Bonaventure University, these simple men were workers, not teachers, and so ever-present in the pastoral setting as to be unseen. Taken for granted, like the rushing hush of the Allegheny River at the university’s edge, or the back-and-forth of the birdsong in the surrounding trees.
Two weeks ago, the twins died on the same day in a Florida hospital; they were 92. Brother Julian died in the morning and Brother Adrian died in the evening, after being told of Julian’s death. Few who knew them were surprised, and many were relieved, as it would have been hard to imagine one surviving without the other.
But the cultivated anonymity of the twins died with them. News of their deaths, beginning with an article in The Buffalo News, traveled around the world, stunning the Catholic university’s officials. Think of it: eminent Franciscan scholars die with little notice, but the same-day passing of an identical and unassuming pair of Franciscan grunts attracts international attention.
Sister Margaret Carney, the university president and a Franciscan scholar, gave great thought to the why. Her conclusion: “The twins incarnate something that people have a hunger to know.”
Read the rest here.
James Martin, SJ