92 year old twins, Franciscan friars, die together on the same day
Twin brothers Adrian, and Julian Riester answered God's call in the 1940s: the Franciscans instead of Army.
From the moment of their birth in Buffalo 92 years ago, twin brothers Julian and Adrian Riester rarely left each other's side.
They played together, went to school together, as young men traveled cross-country together -- and, in their 20s, joined the Franciscan order together.
And on Wednesday, after 65 years as identical twins wearing the identical brown robes of the Franciscans -- mostly at St. Bonaventure University -- Brother Julian Riester and Brother Adrian Riester died together at St. Anthony Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. Julian died Wednesday morning, followed by Adrian in the evening.
Those who knew the Riesters best say they are not surprised at all.
"If ever there is a confirmation that God favored them, this is it," said their cousin and close friend Michael Riester of Buffalo. "They weren't even separated for 12 hours."
The biological brothers were also religious brothers, committed to the monastic life of Franciscan friars, not as priests but in roles as physical laborers.
During two stints at St. Bonaventure, from 1951 to 1956 and from 1973 to 2009, "the twins" were a common sight strolling in lockstep across campus -- or, in later years after a few "incidents" resulted in loss of their driver's licenses, on identical bicycles wearing identical helmets.
They became known as accomplished artisans who expressed their talents as gardeners and woodworkers, turning out tables and cabinets from their workshop in the garage of St. Bonaventure's Franciscan Friary.
Yvonne Peace, former secretary to the university's Franciscan community, remembers them as handymen and "fixers" who repaired all sorts of items brought to them by many on campus.
"They were always busy," she said.
Brother Julian, whose given name was Jerome, and Brother Adrian, whose given name was Irving, were part of a family of seven children born to Dr. Julian Riester and his wife, Clara. Their father was a prominent obstetrician who as a medical student observed surgery on President William McKinley after he was fatally shot in Buffalo in 1901, according to Michael Riester, who is the historian of St. Louis Catholic Church.
The attended St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Buffalo (where they had a reputation for fooling teachers by their identical looks) and then a radio technology school in Los Angeles before applying to the Franciscans' Holy Name Province.
Toward the end of World War II, after mutually pledging to reply to whichever came first -- an acceptance from the Franciscans or an expected induction notice from the Army -- the morning mail brought an invitation to join the friars, and the afternoon mail "greetings" from the draft board.
God's call, they told interviewers in later years, took priority.
They were separated only twice, once from 1946 to 1951 when Brother Adrian was a sacristan at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan and Brother Julian was general manager of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. Later they were not far apart in the 1950s when Brother Julian was assigned to St. Patrick's Parish in Buffalo and Brother Adrian to Bishop Timon High School in South Buffalo. But from 1956 on, the Riester brothers were together.
Michael Riester remembers them as family men who used the money given them by friends to travel to Buffalo on their day off to take their mother -- who lived to 103 -- to dinner at fine restaurants such as Salvatore's Italian Gardens or Romanello's. "They liked a good time," he said.
Indeed, in 2003 Brother Julian told the Bona Venture, the university's student newspaper, that they confounded the friars' seniority system by often claiming they "walked in the door together" and by never divulging which twin was born first.
"We don't tell," Brother Adrian told the newspaper. "We like to keep them guessing."
Michael Riester said his cousins will be remembered as "exemplary men and holy men," who lived their lives in a truly Franciscan spirit. When word came earlier this week that both were seriously ill in the Franciscans' retirement home in St. Petersburg, where they had lived for the last two years, Michael Riester and many in the St. Bonaventure community said they almost expected that the pair would leave together.
Now they will be buried together Monday in Olean.
"They had this intimate bond, in which neither was selfish at all," Michael Riester said. "And because they were so in tune to God and to each other, it's not surprising at all."