FOWLER, Mich. (Lansing State Journal) -- Working on weekends as a deacon at St. Agnes Catholic parish in Fowlerville, Gary Koenigsknecht would occasionally need to gently correct someone who belonged to St. Mary Catholic parish a couple of towns west.
"You'd have somebody from Williamston say, 'Hey, I saw you last week!' " he said. "And it was like, 'No, you really did not.' "
That's because the tall, blue-eyed deacon with military-short brown hair and an easy, welcoming smile at St. Mary in Williamston was Gary's identical twin, Todd.
After eight years of study and preparation, both brothers will be ordained as priests Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing.
The Rev. John Linden, director of vocations for the 10-county Diocese of Lansing, said he believes Gary and Todd will make excellent pastors.
"They are just down-to-earth and they make you feel comfortable in their presence," he said. "There is nobody those two boys couldn't get into a conversation with and make the other feel welcome and heard."
Todd and Gary, 26, attribute much of that to their upbringing on their parents' organic dairy farm near Fowler. Todd is the fourth and Gary the fifth of 10 children born to Agnes and Brian Koenigsknecht. They grew up attending Most Holy Trinity Church in Fowler and attended Catholic schools through eighth grade.
The brothers put in many hours tilling, planting, shoveling manure and milking cows on the farm, where the family cultivates 200 acres and has 100 milk cows.
Sometimes, they'd work side-by-side with their uncle, the Rev. William Koenigsknecht. Now a senior priest in the Lansing Diocese, he has served at a number of Lansing parishes including Church of the Resurrection in Lansing. He would often take Wednesday off from his priestly duties to feed cattle or harvest crops with his brother's family.
The brothers grew up without a TV and with their parents modeling hard work and prayer. They also encouraged all of their children to become involved at church.
"The farm is a good context for family life," Todd said.
There's a closeness: "Both parents are usually available," said their mom, Agnes.
And there's built-in spirituality.
"Really, with farming, you rely on God — nature, but God is nature — for our livelihood and everything," said their dad, Brian. "It's pretty easy to fill in the children on creation and how things work."
'I love farming and that will always be the case'
After graduating as top 10 students from Fowler High School in 2006, Gary and Todd went to St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. They studied theology, philosophy and spent a semester in Rome.
In 2010, they went on to Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit to continue their studies and learn some of the particular skills of the priesthood.
Gary enjoys the challenge he finds in writing and delivering homilies.
"The Bible is the word of God, and it has power to it, and it is an honor to give it to people," he said.
The two were ordained as deacons last May. Deacons may conduct baptisms, weddings and other sacramental functions but cannot celebrate a Mass.
During a parish internship, Todd found himself baptizing twin boys.
"I told the parents I was a twin and look what happened to me," he said.
Linden said there are several priests in the diocese who have a brother that is also a priest, but there are no other twins.
The Rev. Tim McDonald, who was pastor at Most Holy Trinity when Gary and Todd decided to enter the seminary, has two brothers who are priests: the Rev. Eben McDonald of California and the Rev. Adam McDonald, who has served as a missionary in the Philippines.
There's a possibility the Koenigsknecht family could match them three-for-three one day. Gary and Todd's brother Lee, 19, just finished his first year at St. John Vianney seminary and is exploring the possibility of his own ministry.
"We weren't surprised, I guess," Gary said of Lee's decision.
"We didn't talk about seminary or going to seminary explicitly," Todd said. "You don't want to influence someone. You need to come to your own decision."
Since they graduated from Sacred Heart April 26, Todd and Gary have gone on retreat, attended the ordination of classmate Joseph Kirkconnell — in the Cayman Islands — and they've come home to help the family plant corn and cut hay.
Like their uncle, they plan to come home and help with the cows and the crops on their days off.
"I love farming and that will always be the case," Gary said.
"You've got time to think," Todd said of farm work. "It's a nice break from the busy life of a priest."
Twins Todd and Gary Koenigsknecht will become Catholic priests on Saturday. Kathleen Lavey | Lansing State Journal
Five men will be ordained as priests for the Diocese of Lansing beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 955 Alton Blvd., East Lansing. They are:
• Gary Koenigsknecht, who will be assigned to Holy Family parish, Grand Blanc.
• Todd Koenigsknecht, who will be sent to St. Thomas the Apostle parish, Ann Arbor.
• Vincent Richardson, who will serve at St. Patrick Parish, Brighton.
• James Rolph, who will go to St. John the Evangelist parish, Fenton.
• Daniel Westermann, who will serve the East Lansing Catholic community at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Church and Student Center.