Tribute to the Franciscan brothers who were brothers

I posted the other day about Julian and Adrian Riester, the Franciscan brothers and identical twins who died the same day, at 92, of heart failure. Now Dan Barry, the fine New York Times columnist and author of the affecting memoir "Pull Me up" (and most recently, "Bottom of the 33rd," about baseball's longest game), has a tribute to the men who worked devotedly and almost unheralded -- until their deaths -- at Barry's own alma mater, St. Bonaventure University:

The Riesters were the sons of a prominent Buffalo doctor and his wife, and matching gifts to five older sisters. Though bright and observant, the brothers did not excel in school; a nephew, Kevin McCue, suspects a missed diagnosis of dyslexia.After being turned down by the armed forces on medical grounds a bad left eye for one, a bad right for the other they attended radio technology school in California. Then World War II broke out, just as they were exploring religious life. They received an acceptance letter from the Franciscans one morning, and a letter from the draft board that afternoon. They made their choice: Jerome became Brother Julian, and Irving became Brother Adrian.Back then, the Franciscans followed a rather un-Franciscan caste system, with priests the well-educated elite, often working with books, and the lay brothers the less-educated support staff, often working with livestock. The Riesters, though earnestly obedient, did not understand why the two groups were discouraged from fraternizing; why, for example, the priests and brothers had separate recreation rooms. Didnt St. Francis say that we are all brothers?A Yes, but answer came when their superior ordered the dismantling of a modest boat they had built to ply the wondrous Allegheny. He may have thought that the vessel violated their vow of poverty or, more likely, he may have disliked how they took seminarians, their betters, for boat rides.Here, then, were two shy men, surrounded by scholars, discouraged from speaking, uncertain what to say if given the chance, and yet confident that this was their calling. They were definitely second-class citizens, and not always treated well, said Michael Riester, a cousin and a former Franciscan. But they channeled it, always, spiritually.

Read the whole thing here; it's beautiful, and The Times has a gallery of photos as well.Why their story is so captivating is another question. There is the coincidence of their deaths, but also the simplicity and evident sanctity of their lives. And yet, such vocations are disappearing. Does that increase our fascination and admiration?

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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