Online Mosaic article spurs New York Times, CNN stories on twin-brother priests.You’ve no doubt heard of the expression: Just as a pebble dropped in a pond causes far-reaching ripples, so one small action can have far-reaching effects. This saying seems to apply to an article that ran in the spring 2014 print Mosaic, which sent out ripples throughout the Web with remarkable effect after the article appeared in the online Mosaic in May.
“A Family Tradition” featured Sacred Heart fourth-year graduate seminarians Deacon Todd and Deacon Gary Koenigsknecht. The article discussed how the identical twin brothers and soon-to-be ordained priests for the Diocese of Lansing came from a predominantly German-Catholic farming community, and an extended family, of astounding fertility for producing Catholic priests. Their home parish of Most Holy Trinity in Fowler, Michigan (pop. 1,224), north of Lansing, has generated twenty-two priests since its founding in 1881, counting Fathers Todd and Gary. Westphalia’s (pop. 938) St. Mary Parish, a few miles south of Fowler, has produced twenty-two priests since its 1838 founding.
Further, when Lansing’s Bishop Early Boyea ordained the brothers on June 14, the extended Koenigsknecht family became the seedbed of its fifth and sixth priests.
Quite a nice story, right? We certainly thought Mosaic readers would enjoy it, especially since the article makes clear how priestly vocations find their source in a faith-filled family structure.
Well, the New York Times thought it was a pretty good human interest story, too. So did the Lansing Journal. And so did CNN cable news network. They all did extended pieces on the ordination of Fathers Todd and Gary Koenigsknecht, focusing on their remarkable double-journeys to the priesthood and their thoroughly Catholic, and thoroughly agricultural, family backgrounds. And it seems the national attention all started with the piece published in the Mosaic.
The rippling effect of “A Family Tradition” began in early June, when a New York Times writer called the Lansing diocese. She was drafting an article on the Koenigsknecht twins and needed some background information, particularly to fact-check her source material—which happened to be “A Family Tradition.” When a priest from the chancery office called the Mosaic’s editor to verify some information for the writer, he mentioned the Times writer got the idea for her article, “In Two Michigan Villages, A Higher Calling Is Often Heard,” after encountering “A Family Tradition” at mosaic.shms.edu.
Around the same time, a feature on Deacons Todd and Gary and their upcoming ordinations appeared on the Lansing Journal’s online edition at lsj.com. Accompanying the article is a video interview of the twin brothers as they tend to the calves at the family organic dairy farm of parents Brian and Agnes. (Did the inspiration to do the piece, “Fowler twins among 10 men to be ordained Saturday in Lansing diocese,” come from the Mosaic? The timing seems more than coincidental.)
And the ripples kept rippling. Somehow, the intriguing story of the Koenigsknecht brothers worked its mysterious way to the offices of CNN—and to the attention of journalist Lisa Ling.
This Is Life, with Lisa Ling is a one-hour documentary series that airs on Sunday nights on CNN. Special correspondent Ling travels across the country telling the stories of “ordinary people with extraordinary lives.” For installment eight of the inaugural season of the series, she featured newly-ordained Fathers Gary and Todd, along with Sacred Heart alumnus Fr. Mathias Thelen, another priestly offspring of Most Holy Trinity Parish and currently a member of Sacred Heart’s faculty.
“Called to the Collar,” was filmed in June, mostly in Fowler and only a week after the twin’s ordinations. It aired on November 16. For a piece by the so-called “mainstream media,” which is not known for its affirming coverage of the Roman Catholic Church, the production was remarkably upbeat. The program does begin predictably with a review of the recent abuse scandals and the decline in Church participation that has resulted, supposedly. But then it quickly shifts mode. “I am headed to the rural patch of Michigan,” says Ling, “where Catholicism is thriving and priests are considered cool.”
Ling goes on to interview proud parents Brian and Agnes Koenigsknecht at their family farm; shows Father Gary ministering to a seriously ill parishioner at the hospital; follows Father Todd as he performs a baptism and explains the theology of confession (Ling even enters the booth!); and interviews the owner of Fowler’s Catholic goods store (“I would love to have a son who was a priest,” the owner exclaims). Father Thelen recounts his exploits on Fowler High School’s football field and how he, an admitted jock who had “many girlfriends,” finally gives in to that still, small voice surprisingly calling him to forgo all and serve God as a Catholic priest.
And the documentary includes another surprise: Ling visits Sacred Heart Major Seminary and has a beer with some seminarians shooting pool and hanging out in the seminarian recreation lounge like regular guys. These are just some of the highlights of the fifty-two minute video.