Pax et Bonum

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

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 11 months ago
I loved this story.  It is a great celebration of the nobody saints!
(Perhaps its popularity in the NYTimes is due to our hunger for such humble and hidden lives, in this age of celebrity?)
Robert Dean
6 years 11 months ago
"Do good, and disappear."
6 years 11 months ago
Beautiful story!
Jim McCrea
6 years 11 months ago
I had 2 cousins, only children of a doctor and his nurse wife, who were 1 years apart in age, and in entering the Jesuits.  The oldest died 2 years after the youngest.

Not the same story but I was struck by the similiarities.  And  neither was humble, self-effacing nor afraid to speak up on any and all subjects!
James O'Connell
6 years 6 months ago
I was a junior at SBU before I realized they were twins.  For nearly three years, I thought they were just one man who could cross the campus much faster than the rest of us!


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The news from Ireland and the United States reminds us of Herod, of Pharaoh. What culture betrays its children?
The EditorsMay 26, 2018
A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, has passed with a nearly 2-1 margin.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018