Brothers Julian and Adrian were faith-filled men and model Franciscan friars. We used to simply refer to them as “The Twins.” I knew them first when I was a student at St. Bonaventure University and then came to know them as one of their brother friars after joining the Order of Friars Minor after graduation. They both died this week, within hours of each other — exactly as they would have wanted it. They were inseparable, serving in a variety of ministries for decades as holy and humble Franciscan Brothers.
I still recall hearing their vocation stories as a young college student who himself was considering entering the Order. The Order they entered was, in many ways, very different from the one they left when they greeted Sister Death this week. Their early experiences were shaded in the rigid clericalism of all Roman Catholic religious communities of the pre-Vatican II days where brothers by religious profession were treated as second-class citizens within the community. Yet, they endured their trials with love and dedication.
In recent years Julian had started to get sick and after many decades of ministry and life in Western NY, working at St. Bonaventure University, they moved to one of our retirement friaries in Florida. Here is what the Associated Press published today about the death of my brother friars. Their unique story has received widespread national attention this week.
Julian, Adrian Riester, Buffalo-Born Twin Friars, Die On Same Day At Age 92
By CAROLYN THOMPSON
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Identical twins Julian and Adrian Riester were born seconds apart 92 years ago. They died hours apart this week. The Buffalo-born brothers were also brothers in the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor. Professed friars for 65 years, they spent much of that time working together at St. Bonaventure University, doing carpentry work, gardening and driving visitors to and from the airport and around town.
“It was fun to see them, just quiet, gentle souls,” Yvonne Peace, who worked at the St. Bonaventure Friary for nearly 21 years, said Friday.
They died Wednesday at St. Anthony Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., Brother Julian in the morning and Brother Adrian in the evening.
Both died of heart failure, said Father James Toal, guardian of St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, where the inseparable twins lived since moving from western New York in 2008.
“It really is almost a poetic ending to the remarkable story of their lives,” St. Bonaventure spokesman Tom Missel said. “Stunning when you hear it, but hardly surprising given that they did almost everything together.”
Julian and Adrian Riester were born Jerome and Irving on March 27, 1919, to a couple who already had five daughters. They took the names of saints upon their ordination in the Catholic church.
“Dad was a doctor and he said a prayer for a boy,” Adrian once said, according to St. Bonaventure. “The Lord fooled him and sent two.”
After attending St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, the brothers were turned away by the military because of their eyesight, the university said. One had a bad left eye, the other a bad right eye.
Eventually they joined the friars of Holy Name Province in New York City. They received separate assignments before reuniting at the seminary at St. Bonaventure from 1951 to 1956. After serving parishes in Buffalo for 17 years, they returned to St. Bonaventure in 1973 and spent the next 35 years there.
They had separate rooms in the friary but one telephone extension that rang into both, Peace recalled. It was usually the more talkative Adrian who answered, though Julian possessed a quiet authority. They never said who was born first.
“Brother Julian was like the big brother. Brother Adrian would defer to him,” Peace said. “They picked up one of our friars at the airport one time and the friar said, `Can I take you to dinner?’
“Brother Adrian looked at Brother Julian and said, `We aren’t going to dinner?’ `No, we’ll go home,'” Peace said. “So that was it. No discussion, no contradicting. `No, we aren’t going today.'”
Funeral services are scheduled for Monday at St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Church in St. Petersburg. Afterward, the brothers’ bodies will be flown to Buffalo and buried Wednesday at St. Bonaventure Cemetery, across the street from the university.