Deaths of Twin Friars Captivate International Audience

Rebecca Doel In the Headlines

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Identical twins Adrian Riester, OFM, and Julian Riester, OFM, were laid to rest on June 9 in the friars’ plot of St. Bonaventure University Cemetery.

Their deaths at St. Anthony Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. — just hours apart eight days earlier — garnered worldwide media attention. An estimated eight to 10 million people viewed an Associated Press article about the twins’ death on Yahoo!News. More than 50,000 of those viewers shared the story on their Facebook pages. The same AP article was posted on countless news websites around the globe.

At the June 9 service, Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, said of the overwhelming interest in the Riesters: “The coincidence of their birth and death on the same day seems almost supernatural.” He continued: “But what really made millions of people read and care about their story was, for a few days, they had a chance to read about the good side of humanity.”

Many friars close to Adrian and Julian, known for their quiet demeanor, mused about how the two would have reacted to all the media attention. At their Mass of Christian Burial, celebrated at St. Mary, Our Lady of Grace Church in St. Petersburg, Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, said, “I think they would crawl under the table right now if they knew all this attention that’s been devoted to them.”

Roy Gasnick, OFM, who lived with the twins at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, observed that he could imagine them asking, “Goodness gracious, what’s all the fuss about?”

In his June 14 column in The New York Times, “For Franciscan Twins, Simple Lives Had Depth,” St. Bonaventure graduate Dan Barry wrote: “To dismiss the twins as blank slates would be to misjudge them; their simplicity had depth. Rarely speaking of yesterday, they lived in the God-given now. Spending hours examining every flower at the Pleasant Valley Nursery. Licking every Twist & Shake ice cream cone so as to make it last and last. Pondering the art in the studio of David Haack, OFM, then going off to build picture frames in their nearby workshop….”

Early Years
Adrian and Julian were born March 27, 1919, in Buffalo, N.Y., to Julian and Clara Riester. Baptized on May 4 as Irving and Jerome, the twins graduated in 1939 from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo and, from 1939 to 1941, attended a radio technology school in Los Angeles, Calif.

In 1943, they were received as tertiary brothers. After two years of work and training, they entered Holy Name Province in January 1945 at St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, N.J., receiving the names Adrian and Julian. In 1946, they professed first vows in Paterson, and in 1949, they professed final vows as Franciscans at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in New York City.

Following their simple profession, the twins were sent on separate assignments: Adrian as sacristan at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York, and Julian as general manager of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. However, in 1951, they were reunited when assigned to Christ the King Seminary at St. Bonaventure University.

In 1956, they again were separated for different assignments, although both in their hometown of Buffalo: Julian as general manager at St. Patrick’s Parish, and Adrian as general manager at Bishop Timon High School. In 1965, Adrian joined his brother at St. Patrick’s. In 1973, they returned to St. Bonaventure University — as sacristan and chauffeur respectively — where they ministered for the next 35 years. In August 2008, they retired to St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg.

Funeral Services
A wake service was held June 5 at St. Anthony Friary. Dominic was principal celebrant at the Mass of Christian Burial on June 6.

Following the funeral Mass, the remains were transported to St. Bonaventure University, where the wake and memorial service were held on June 9. Peter Schneible, OFM, who lived with the twins at St. Bonaventure, preached the homily.

Julian and Adrian are survived by two of their five sisters, Mrs. Daniel McCue and Mrs. Rhea Shaddock. Condolences may be sent to: Mrs. Daniel McCue, 97 Reist Street, Buffalo, NY 14221, and Mrs. Rhea Shaddock, 8244 29th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, FL 32710.

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for the Province.