Identical twins answer the call to priesthood

Categories: Twenty Something

Twenty Something

By Christina Capecchi

Agnes Koenigsknecht had the look of an air-traffic controller, the one that strikes so many mothers of the bride.

“We need one round table on the stage,” she instructed on a Friday morning in June, the eve of the big day. Her legion was in full force, a swirl of activity in the church hall: hauling tables, wheeling chairs, folding linens, slicing carrots. A 72-year-old uncle surveyed the scene, while a 9-month-old nephew scooted about.

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Father John Linden, vocations director for the Lansing Diocese, can’t resist a playful moment after the ordination Mass of Father Todd, left, and Father Gary Koenigsknecht, holding a chasuble up to their 19-year-old brother, Lee, who just finished his first year of seminary. Christina Capecchi / For The Visitor

Agnes’ mind was on logistics, the “controlled chaos” she had been anticipating. But it was clear she was enjoying every minute. “This is all part of the  celebration,” she told me.

It was a double celebration for Agnes: not a daughter’s wedding but the priestly ordination of her twin sons. Identical twins with individual callings to priesthood.

Spurring each other on

She likes to stress that part to the people who express incredulity or ask who had the idea first, Todd or Gary. Agnes and her husband, Brian, checked in with each of the twins as high-school freshmen to inquire about their future plans.

In private conversations, both teens expressed an interest in priesthood, unbeknownst to the other. The discovery of their mutual goal was a happy surprise — and an enduring blessing during eight years of seminary.

“It felt natural,” said Father Gary, now 26. “It was very helpful to have a twin brother to spur each other on.”

At 18, the twins from Fowler, Mich., made a big decision, setting out for college seminary in St. Paul, Minn. They made it after much prayer, with great maturity. Their 20s have been defined by intense growth: study, sacraments, service. Their work was embedded in a robust fraternity among their fellow seminaries, including some who’s who twin hijinks. One involved drawing a mole above Father Todd’s right eyebrow to replicate Father Gary’s — hence, eliminating the most clear-cut distinguisher of the two.

In this day and age, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike are mystified by the priesthood. The prospect of celibacy and obedience seem increasingly foreign, baffling even. But when you talk to Father Gary and Father Todd, there is no sense of angst or sacrifice. There is deep contentment bubbling into boyish joy. They can’t stop grinning.

Above all, the twins exude freedom — the freedom that comes from answering your call from God, going all in and never looking back.

“They’re both very intelligent,” Bishop Earl Boyea, head of the Lansing Diocese, told me. “They engage people very easily. There’s a simplicity about them. They’re not complicated.”

That may be what I appreciated most, and it flows from their rural upbringing, a lifestyle that is fully integrated. Everything is home grown at the Koenigsknechts’ organic dairy farm, where Agnes gardens, bakes and fills the basement with canned foods.

She and Brian raised 10 kids in an old farmhouse that, absent a TV, centered on conversation, Euchre and prayer.

A day beyond words

The fruits of their efforts were on full display June 14, when the twins received their holy orders. Agnes looked radiant in a layered ruffle dress that shimmered in the light, her silver hair neatly curled under.

As Father Gary and Father Todd processed into St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing, Mich., back lit by a two-story stained glassed mural of Jesus, I was overcome by the moment: the trumpets, the incense, the opening hymn, “Go Up to the Altar of God.”

Once they reached the sanctuary and looked out at their family, filling a block of front-and-center pews, the twins beamed. In a heartbeat, I felt a measure of Agnes’ maternal pride.

“How do you feel?” I asked her after Mass.

“Beyond words!” she said.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and editor of SisterStory.org, the official website of National Catholic Sisters Week.