On June 5, 600 seniors from Edina High School will file into the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis to receive their diplomas. Halfway through the line-up, a pair of identical twins will cross the stage — young women with honey-colored hair and soft smiles whose lives have been defined by their faith and friendship.
“I’ll be excited!” said Alanna Halloran, 18, while hanging out at her parish, Our Lady of Grace in Edina, after school on a recent Friday afternoon.
“I’ll tear up,” said Lizzie Halloran, grinning broadly. Two minutes younger, she often mirrors her twin’s expression and completes her sentences. “I’m very emotional.”
Being in sync with each other has long been their trademark.
“We’ll be singing the same song at the same time,” Alanna said.
“And the same verse!” Lizzie added.
The twins, who attended Our Lady of Grace Catholic School, often read from the same prayer devotional. It’s become a regular occurrence that one twin will pick up her phone to call the other right as she receives a call from her sister
“Being a twin gives you a best friend for life, a partner-in-crime,” Lizzie said.
“An instant tutor, a counselor—” Alanna chimed in.
“—A chess partner!” Lizzie said.
That close bond, along with their deep Catholic faith, has anchored them through a wave of trials and triumphs they never could have imagined. Today, it helps explain what makes the two such remarkable high school graduates.
They’ve been defying the odds since their birth, making it nearly full-term — 38 weeks — and clocking in at 7 and a half pounds each.
“Weigh them! Weigh them!” shouted the nurse, accustomed to much smaller twins.
The girls grew up at OLG — tagging along when their parents Mike and Danette volunteered, helping at Mass as altar servers, teaching faith formation and making presentations at parent information night.
“They’re a shining light of how to grow in faith,” said Father Kevin Finnegan, pastor of OLG. “They dive into things with complete faith in God’s providence.”
That complete faith was evident early in life. At age 12, the twins were diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis type 2. While it doesn’t shorten life expectancy, NF2 comes with considerable challenges. It causes tumors to form along nerve tissue and can result in complete hearing loss.
The twins immediately saw their diagnosis through a spiritual lens. They had just heard the Gospel account of Peter walking on water by trusting in Jesus. They referenced it and took to comforting their parents. They could weather this storm by reaching for Jesus’ outstretched hand.
“Their parents said, ‘We’re supposed to be the ones consoling our daughters,’ and they’re saying, ‘Mom and Dad, it’s not that bad,’” Father Finnegan recalled. “That comes from a place of faith.”
Danette agreed. “I often joke that there’s a lot of reverse parenting in our home because Lizzie and Alanna have an uncanny ability to remind us of God’s love and our Blessed Mother’s influence when we need it most,” she said.
That ability left a powerful impression on Sister Julieta Del Carpio, OLG’s confirmation coordinator and middle school youth minister. “What stands out to me is their sensitivity toward things of God. There’s a surrender to that supernatural vision,” she said of the twins. “It’s not only about what’s going on in my life now, in a worldly or human way, but it’s about God’s plan in my life.”
Mike credits their faith community. “As Father Kevin likes to say, ‘We lead with yes,’” he said. “That’s a really giving, open, loving approach to life.”
Paving the way
Looking back, the twins see how God was readying them for NF2.
“I think God set us up to be in a really good place to mentally accept the diagnosis,” Lizzie said. “OLG prepared us to know we’re not just living for this world — and life will not be perfect. And a diagnosis is a blessing because it’s a way to make your life difficult, which you can offer up.”
“It’s like St. Peter saying, I am grateful for adversity, which produces endurance, and endurance builds character and leads to eternal life,” Alanna added. “It really helps to know that bearing an illness on earth will have fruit in heaven — so it’s like you’re honored to have this.”
Lizzie agreed. “I see how unique our opportunity is,” she said.
Living with the unknowns of a degenerative disease — punctuated by regular hearing tests — has forced the twins to focus on the present and fix their eyes on God.
“Life on earth is so short compared to heaven,” Lizzie said.
From the onset, the twins trusted that God would use their disorder for some good. “They believed they would do something great for God with this diagnosis and that their world would become bigger with new experiences that could help others grow closer to Christ,” Danette said.
Since the diagnosis, they’ve endured many health challenges, including two brain surgeries for Alanna and a spine surgery for Lizzie. But that belief, time and again, has held true.
“100 percent,” Alanna said.
The blessings include friendships with doctors and nurses who now feel like family. Mike and Danette have made every effort to build fun into NF2-related appointments, bonding the family of four. They bought each girl a horse — a longtime passion that helps with their balance, which can be thwarted by the genetic disorder.
It’s become an opportunity for evangelization, Father Finnegan said. “People realize they’re not talking to a couple kids whose lives have been served on a silver platter. These two young ladies have suffered. It’s self-evident. But it’s not a ‘woe is me.’ It’s an invitation to say, ‘Hey, I’ll engage you in a conversation. We all have suffering in our lives.’ That gives them an in on how to share the Gospel — not only God’s love but the truth of the Church and the beauty of the Church’s teaching.”
Mike and Danette recognize how NF2 has given the twins a new perspective, producing an empathy for others that’s off the charts.
It draws in their peers, who confide in the twins and seek their counsel, Sister Julieta said. “If someone is struggling and shared something with me, I could see they were also talking to the twins. They wouldn’t go to just any friend, but to them, because they knew they are close to God so they would have something wise to say. Their peers see them as a reference, as someone to look up to.”
Meanwhile, the twins are constantly offering each other encouragement, sensing when the other may be spiritually dry.
“Having a twin really helps me grow in my faith,” Alanna said.
“Whenever one of us gets a little lukewarm, which is normal, or even falls behind,” Lizzie said, “we send each other an appropriate Bible verse or an Instagram post—”
“—Or just talk,” Alanna added.
Faith is a powerful antidote to the stresses of adolescence, the twins say.
“Teenagers are angsty, and their brains aren’t fully developed,” Alanna said. “There’s a lot of pressure on yourself, but having a faith lets you accept the struggles. There are a million majors and options, but you’re going to become the person that God wants you to be.”
Earlier this spring, Lizzie was having a bad day and receiving regular updates on the condition of her grandparents in hospice when a classmate in English class disparaged religion.
“I stepped out of the classroom and prayed some Hail Marys,” she said. “My frontal cortex isn’t fully developed. But faith has been really helpful for me in regulating emotions.”
Their maturity — including a keen interest in socialjustice issues — is matched by a refreshing youthful spirit. The girls are quick to laugh, swapping jokes and tracking amusing memes and TikTok trends.
Public vs. private
The Halloran family faced a big decision when it came time to choose the twins’ high school. While they cherish Catholic education, they also worried about the cost.
The girls reflected on the Scripture mandate to be a light for the world. They began a thoughtful discernment process and consulted Sister Julieta.
She remembers the conversation vividly. “They told me, ‘We realized that if we want to be the light of the world, we might be called to a place that needs Jesus the most.’”
She wasn’t surprised by the profound statement. “When they ask for spiritual advice, their questions are always about how to please God more and how to go deeper in their prayer life. They’re aware that God is using them as instrument,” Sister Julieta said.
Ultimately, the twins decided to attend Edina High School.
The transition from eighth grade, their final year at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School, to ninth grade, their first year of public school, was dramatic.
“It’s like going from this super long, amazing Catholic retreat to the real world,” Alanna said.
But they didn’t see that as a bad thing, she explained.
“You get to use everything you’ve learned and go fight the good fight!” added Alanna.
They have thrived at the large public school and welcomed the chance to meet people from many different faith traditions.
The girls have exercised great courage, seizing opportunities to defend the Catholic Church when it is presented unfairly in classroom discussion. They’ve learned how to discuss Church teachings on thorny social issues with clarity and humility.
They’ve had their work cut out for them.
“It’s frustrating because our generation has open minds about everything but religion,” Lizzie said.
“Some people are aggressively against religion,” Alanna added.
When they overheard an art teacher talking about “getting out of” the Catholic faith, they responded sensitively. “I feel for people who are at that point,” Alanna said. “You know something happened to them.”
A gentle witness
The twins lead with kindness, focusing on genuine connections rather than heavy-handed evangelization. They invite classmates to tag along to Mass. They even brought an atheist friend to eucharistic adoration, where she had a beautiful experience.
They don’t view this friend as a project. Rather, they see her many gifts.
“She’s one of the kindest, most humble and virtuous people I know,” Alanna said.
Their approach — equal parts conviction and compassion — has borne great fruit. They’ve had many exciting conversations with classmates who reconsidered their views of Catholicism. One friend who used to be staunchly opposed to organized religion started posting positive messages about Christianity on Instagram.
“Lizzie and Alanna have encouraged me to grow in my faith, as they always remind me that a relationship with God is joyous and rewarding,” said Natalie Mosakowski, 16, a member of OLG and a sophomore at Edina High School. “They integrate faith into every aspect of their lives, and their pure joy makes me want to dedicate myself deeper to God, too.”
Serving others is their way of being, Mosakowski explained. “They’re always listening to others, supporting their friends and radiating love. I’ve never met more compassionate, generous people.”
The twins understand the power of compassion.
“When I hear from someone who feels ostracized by the Church, I get so much joy in saying, ‘No, Jesus loves you! Jesus loves you even more because of what you’ve been through!’” Alanna said. “That really is a powerful moment. Jesus came to the world to help those who are hurting.”
“That’s why I love our faith so much,” Lizzie added. “It gives meaning to every hardship.”
“Redemptive suffering!” Alanna said, pointing at her twin and referencing a middle-school religion lesson that has stayed with them.
“That’s our life motto,” Lizzie said, nodding.
It’s tied to gratitude, a sense of wonder that their teachers and classmates pick up on. “They absolutely loved what they were learning about in AP Biology,” said Stephen Sanger, who taught the twins last year. “They clearly enjoy learning for learning’s sake. They thanked me just about every day as they left class, which is not typical high school behavior.”
They leave their mark in humble ways.
“Early last year, I noticed Post-it notes started to appear around the room with inspirational quotes and messages of gratitude,” Sanger said. “They were meant to be random pick-me-ups to whomever noticed and read them. It took me a while to figure out the source of these positive messages, but when I did, it made total sense: It was Alanna.”
Even her twin benefits. “I’ll be in the bathroom and see, ‘Oh, Alanna was in this stall,’” Lizzie said, referencing notes her twin leaves behind.
Now others have started leaving uplifting Post-it messages around the school, a custom that will continue when the twins begin studies at the University of Minnesota this fall. They plan to live in the same dorm but not as roommates.
They don’t want to simply make a living but make a difference. Lizzie wants to become a lawyer. She envisions channeling her passion for social justice as a humanrights attorney. Alanna dreams of becoming a doctor and working on a cure for NF2.
Learning about the lives of the saints makes their big dreams feel feasible. The twins light up when they talk about Blessed Benedetta Bianchi Porro, a 20th century Italian Catholic who had, in essence, NF2 but valiantly pursued a medical career, learning to lip read to make it through school when she lost her hearing.
These are the stories they’ll be carrying with them on graduation day, a lifetime of trials and triumphs packed into 18 remarkable years.
“They’re ready,” said Father Finnegan. “They’re ready and willing to serve and to give praise to God.”