MONCKS CORNER — Trappist Father Francis Kline, the abbot of Our Lady of Mepkin Abbey, died Aug. 27 after a three-year battle with lymphoma. He was 57.
Abbot Kline was born Joseph Paul Kline III in Philadelphia, Penn., a son of Joseph P. and Vanetta Hiltner Kline.
He 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 10 years old, and gave his first recital at age 15.
Abbot Kline went on to study with Alexander McCurdy of the Curtis Institute in Phil-adelphia before entering the Julliard School in New York 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. Abbot Kline’s performances were recorded by Albert Borkow of Columbia Records, and the concerts can still be heard on the radio.
He gave recitals in many of the major churches in New York City, was broadcast on the Voice of America, and was a featured soloist at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
Abbot Kline’s professional musical career came to a 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, he was sent to Rome to study theology at the Benedictine Athenaeum, Sant’ Anselmo, earning a
Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology 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 Kline 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,” was published by The Liturgical Press. During his illness he wrote a second book, which he finished in January of this year. It will be published by Cistercian Publications in the spring of 2007.
Abbot Kline served on the boards of institutes, seminaries and foundations, including the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.
As a young monk, the abbot received permission from his superiors to take up music again and to integrate it into his monastic life. He gave a limited number of recitals, including some at Piccolo Spoleto. After Abbot Kline’s 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 addition to his musical reputation, Abbot Kline was well known in the Lowcountry 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 diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship. He was a member of the central committee for the Synod of Charleston.
He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Cooper River Forum and other environmental initiatives. Under his leadership, on Aug. 15, 2006, Mepkin Abbey signed a conservation easement on 3,128 acres owned by the monastery, protecting the land from commercial development in perpetuity.
During his time as abbot, Mepkin accepted Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza, a community of Trappistine nuns in Ecuador, as a daughter house. With the support of many benefactors, the abbey built a new church, the Clare Boothe Luce Library and Conference Center and a senior wing for aging monks, and renovated many of the existing facilities.
A private funeral Mass was celebrated in the abbey’s small church on Aug. 30 for the Mepkin community and the family. A public ecumenical memorial service was held in the Luce Gardens Sept. 1. A memorial Mass will be celebrated at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 to which the public is invited.
“We want to honor Father Francis and give his many friends the opportunity to remember him with a Eucharistic celebration,” said Msgr. James Carter, pastor of Christ Our King and a close friend of Abbot Kline.
“Our parish has been blessed with an ongoing relationship with Mepkin Abbey and Father Francis,” Msgr. Carter said. “He shared many of his gifts with our community. “
The abbot consulted with the parish in the selection of a new organ and the choir has sung in the abbey’s church.
“His influence, however, reached much beyond Christ Our King and the community,” Msgr. Carter said. “He will be sorely missed by those who sought to enrich their spirituality at Mepkin and he will be missed by the art community. We have lost a treasured and reverent churchman.
“Bishop Thompson, who is a member of our pastoral staff, gave Abbot Kline his abbatial blessing when he came to Mepkin, and the bishop was a dear friend and confidant of the abbot,” Msgr. Carter said.
Bishop Robert J. Baker said he was grateful for the abbot’s invitation to him to make a retreat at the abbey in preparation for his ordination as bishop in 1999. He said he got to know Abbot Kline and the community very well at that time.
“Abbot Francis Kline was a man with a big heart and a lot of compassion,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker. “He was always willing to help the Diocese of Charleston in any way he could. May he reap the reward of his labors for the Lord especially in his days with us here in the state of South Carolina as abbot of Mepkin Abbey.”
In addition to his parents, Abbot Kline is survived by two brothers, Ronald Kline and his wife, Carlene, of Rochester, N.Y., and Mark Kline and his wife, Kathy, of Marlton, N.J., and six nieces and nephews.
The Mepkin community requests that in lieu of flowers memorials be made to the Father Francis Memorial Building Fund (Mepkin Abbey, 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, SC 29461) for two projects he envisioned.