Francis Kline, OCSO
1948 - 2006
1948 - 2006
Moncks’ Corner, SC—Abbot Francis Kline, OCSO, 57, died Aug. 27 at his home at Mepkin Abbey after a long illness. Born Joseph Paul Kline III in Philadelphia, PA, he was the son of Joseph P. Kline and Vanetta Hiltner Kline of Brigantine, NJ.
Joseph grew up in Philadelphia, PA, and attended the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Elementary School and St. Joseph Preparatory, a Jesuit high school. He began playing the organ for church services when he was ten years old. At age 15, he played his first organ recital. Joseph went on to study with Alexander McCurdy of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia before entering the Julliard School as a student of Vernon de Tar. During his last year at Julliard (1970-71), he performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in 14 recitals in several Manhattan venues, including the Church of the Ascension and St. Michael’s Church. The Christian Science Monitor took notice of this Bach series in an editorial and the New York Times ran a feature article on the 21-year-old. The Philadelphia Musical Fund Society sponsored the Bach Cycle the next year at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Each of the 13 recitals was recorded by Albert Borkow of Columbia Records the night before the performances. These concerts are still heard on the radio. He played recitals in many of the major churches in New York City, he has been broadcast on the Voice of America, and he was featured soloist at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
Joseph’s professional musical career came to an abrupt halt when he entered the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in 1972. This is when he took the name Francis. Following Solemn Profession at Gethsemani, Francis was sent to Rome to study theology at the Benedictine Athenaeum, Sant’ Anselmo, earning an STB in 1984. In 1986, he was ordained a priest and appointed Novice Director for the community at Gethsemani. In 1990, he was elected third Abbot of Mepkin Abbey, a foundation of Gethsemani in the same Cistercian Order, and received the Abbatial Blessing from Bishop David B. Thompson on March 19, 1990.
Abbot Francis gave retreats for monasteries of his Order, as well as a few lectures and conferences for seminaries and parishes on a limited basis, as his cloistered lifestyle permitted. He published articles on patristic subjects, the theology of St. Bernard, liturgy and spirituality. His first book, Lovers of the Place: Monasticism Loose in the Church, is published by The Liturgical Press. He wrote a second book during his illness, which he finished in January of this year, and that will be published by Cistercian Publications in the spring of 2007. He also served on the boards of institutes, seminaries and foundations, including the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.
As a young monk, Francis received permission of his superiors to take up music again and to integrate it into his monastic life. He played a limited number of recitals since then, including Piccolo Spoleto engagements. Of a Bach recital in France, Abel Gaborit of Harmoniques wrote: “Not very often does an audience hear such music-making: a perfect interpretation, the spiritual intent of Bach finely articulated, a performance that lifted the screen between the music and the listeners.”
In additional to his musical reputation, Abbot Francis was well known in the Low Country for his work with the Diocese of Charleston and with the environmental community. During the 1990s, he served, from the monastery, as the Director of the Office of Prayer and Worship for Diocese of Charleston, and was a member of the Central Committee for the Synod of Charleston.
The environmental community called on him to help bring sometimes conflicting parties together to preserve open space in Berkeley County, especially along the Cooper River. He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Cooper River Forum and other environmental initiatives. Under his leadership, on August 15, 2006 Mepkin Abbey signed a conservation easement on 3,128 acres owned by the monastery, protecting this land from commercial development in perpetuity.
During his time as Abbot, Mepkin celebrated four solemn professions and received numerous men in other stages of formation. Mepkin also accepted Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza, a community of Trappistine nuns in Equador, as a daughter house. With the support of many friends and benefactors, Mepkin built a new church, the Clare Boothe Luce Library and Conference Center, a senior wing for aging monks, and renovated the monks’ kitchen, refectory and guests’ refectory, and the administration building.
In addition to his parents, Fr. Francis is survived by two brothers, Ronald Kline and his wife Carlene of Rochester, NY, and Mark Kline and his wife Kathy of Marlton, NJ, and 6 nieces and nephews.
A memorial service was held in the Luce Gardens at Mepkin Abbey on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 5 p.m.