Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. J. Leo Klein, SJ, who died on January 10, 2017, at Hospice of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. He was 85 years old, a Jesuit for 65 years, and a priest for 52 years. May he rest in peace.
Leo was born on November 4, 1931, in Chicago. He attended Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y., for one year before transferring to St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. He graduated in 1949, and attended Xavier University for two years before entering the Society of Jesus on September 2, 1951. He was ordained a priest on June 14, 1964, at West Baden College in West Baden, Ind., and professed his final vows on April 29, 1972, at Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat Center in Barrington, Ill.
Leo earned a bachelor's degree in Latin from Xavier University in 1955 and a master's degree in the same subject from Loyola University Chicago in 1959. He also earned a master's degree in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., in 1963 and a licentiate in philosophy in 1958, from West Baden College. Leo earned a licentiate in sacred theology in 1965 from Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora, Ill. In 1971, he earned a doctorate in historical theology from Fordham University in the Bronx.
In 1970, Leo was asked to head the campus ministry department at Xavier University in Cincinnati following his completion of graduate work in liturgical theology. He said yes but had also been asked to serve as pastor of Saint Robert Bellarmine Chapel. With that assignment, at a time of growth and change in the worship life of the Church, Leo established an important kind of renewed parish life in Cincinnati as well as a way of Jesuit presence on the campus that has continued to this day. He emphasized the life of the congregation with singing, lay ministries each Sunday, and direct and thoughtful preaching that linked Scripture to the work of everyday Catholic life. The ritual form of the Mass was dear to him, and he had a way of making it involving and clear to students and parish members. Until infirmity required him to retire from regular celebration of Sunday and weekday Masses later in life, his presence and preaching were admired and effective. People quoted back to him homilies he preached years before!
This kind of leadership grounded in sacramental life and prayer was part of his approach to the university when he built up the theology department, served as rector of his community, and designed a course in "The Second 50" years of adult life. This course was intellectually stimulating and interactive in its process of learning. A continuing version of that program appears today in the catalog of adult learning offered by the University of Cincinnati.
Aside from his regency, studies, and time as provincial, Leo spent all of his Jesuit life at Xavier University. During his regency at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (1958–61) Leo taught third and fourth year students in Latin and fine arts appreciation. He was also in charge of the liturgical program. While he was director of campus ministry at Xavier and pastor of Bellarmine Chapel (1970–75), he also was an assistant, associate, and then full professor of theology (1970–79). He was also chair of the theology department and a province consultor (1975–79).
In 1979, Leo became provincial of the Chicago Province. He was a forward-thinking and creative provincial. During his term, he moved the Chicago Province offices from Oak Park to 2050 N. Clark Street. He enhanced the various provincial office departments and helped to create the modern concept of how a provincial office should operate. Because of his cura apostolica and cura personalis, Jesuit life and communities in the Chicago Province were reconfigured to better care for Jesuits and their apostolic works.
Leo brought his gifts of creativity and forward thinking to the universal Society as a delegate at General Congregation 33 (September–October 1983). He finished his time as provincial in 1985. After a well-deserved sabbatical (1985–86), he returned to teaching theology at Xavier. In addition to teaching, Leo was rector of the university's Jesuit community (1986–92) and vice president for mission and ministry (1992–2007). Leo also spent some time on sabbatical (2007–09) and caring for his health at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich. (August 2010–January 2011). As his health declined, Leo spent time in a Cincinnati area health care facility.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Saint Robert Bellarmine Chapel
3800 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, OH 45207