Jesuit Father J. Leo Klein died on Jan. 10, 2017, at Hospice of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. He was 85 years old, a Jesuit for 65 years, and a priest for 52 years.
Fr. Klein was born on Nov. 4, 1931, in Chicago. He attended Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, New York, 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 Sept. 2, 1951. He was ordained a priest on June 14, 1964, at West Baden College in West Baden, Indiana, and professed his final vows on April 29, 1972, at Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat Center in Barrington, Illinois.
Fr. Klein 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, Indiana, in 1963, and a licentiate in philosophy in 1958, from West Baden College. Fr. Klein earned a licentiate in sacred theology in 1965, from Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora, Illinois. In 1971, he earned a doctorate in historical theology from Fordham University in the Bronx.
In 1970, Fr. Klein 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, Fr. Klein 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.
Aside from his regency, studies, and time as provincial, Fr. Klein spent all his Jesuit life at Xavier University. During his regency at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (1958–61) Fr. Klein 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, Fr. Klein 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. 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.
Fr. Klein 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, Fr. Klein was rector of the university’s Jesuit community (1986–92) and vice president for mission and ministry (1992–2007). Fr. Klein also spent some time on sabbatical (2007–09) and caring for his health at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. (August 2010–January 2011). As his health declined, Fr. Klein spent time in a Cincinnati area health care facility.