Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Death of an Abbot

Over the years, this city has given to the wider church religious of the highest calibre. This tradition of excellence continues to the present moment, but far too often is not recognized and celebrated at home as it should be.

One of the top tier of these many devoted souls will be buried tomorrow: Dom Francis Kline, abbot of Mepkin, the Trappist outpost in South Carolina. Abbot Kline died on Sunday at 57 after a four-year battle with leukemia.

Tomorrow's funeral at the abbey will be private as the crush of mourners would overwhelm the intimate new church there, which was built under his leadership. A public memorial service will be held in its gardens on Thursday evening.

The abbot, an alumnus of Philly's St Joe's Prep, is survived by both his parents. Following his election as abbot of Mepkin in 1990, the abbot's mother aided in making the community's habits. An accomplished organist, he studied the instrument at Julliard, leaving the world a year after his graduation to join the Trappists at Gethsemani... but not before playing the works of Bach from memory in performance at New York's Lincoln Center. Twice.

He may have left the world but, then again, he kept an active place in it. Fr Francis studied the sacraments at Sant'Anselmo, worked on several fronts to preserve the environment -- both in Mepkin's environs and beyond -- and, in a state not usually known for the clout of its Catholic monastics, his death brought tributes from Gov. Mark Sanford, who praised the abbot as "someone that just had a remarkable level of personal grace in the way he handled himself," and former Sen. Fritz Hollings, who called Kline "an inspiration" and "a saint if there ever was one."

Obits here and here, with an excerpt of Kline's treatise on "Monasticism Loose in the Church" here; a second book, written during his illness, will be published next spring.

PHOTO: Mepkin Abbey