Father Joseph Kleinstuber, a longtime Washington-area priest and educator, died on Nov. 6 at the age of 86. He is shown in a 2004 photo, wearing a ballcap that reflected his “Father K” nickname.
Father Joseph Kleinstuber, a longtime Washington-area priest and educator, died on Nov. 6 at the age of 86. He is shown in a 2004 photo, wearing a ballcap that reflected his “Father K” nickname.

To his parishioners and to the generations of students he taught during his 54 years as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, Father Joseph Kleinstuber was known fondly as “Father K.” The priest died on Nov. 6 at the age of 86, and at his Nov. 10 Mass of Christian Burial in Southern Maryland at St. Mary Parish in Bryantown, he was remembered as a dedicated priest and skilled teacher who brought Christ to those whom he served.

“What a wonderful priest we remember today, and send in peace to our Lord,” said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher, who was the main celebrant at the Mass and greeted the mourners who packed the country church, where Father Kleinstuber served as pastor from 2001 until his retirement in 2008.

Bishop Fisher, noting Father Kleinstuber’s 25 years of service as a chaplain, counselor, chemistry and biology teacher and golf coach at St. John’s College High School in Washington, called him a model priest and teacher who in teaching science “knew the order and beauty of the universe.”

Before the Mass, an honor guard of six Knights of Columbus stood beside the priest’s casket, which lay in state near the altar where he had celebrated so many Masses.

In a 2014 Catholic Standard article about Father Kleinstuber’s 50th anniversary as a priest, he reflected on his service at St. John’s College High School, where he worked from 1973 until 1998 – about one-half of his priesthood.

“I loved that place,” said the priest known as “Father K” to generations of students there. A key goal then, he said, was “letting high school kids know it’s fun to be a priest, and it’s fun to be a Catholic.”

The priest known for his sense of humor was a graduate of Gonzaga College High School – St. John’s archrival – and he said that his first day at St. John’s, he proudly hung his Gonzaga diploma on the wall. At St. John’s/Gonzaga football games, the priest would sit on the Cadets’ side of the stands for one half of the game, and on the Eagles’ side for the other half. In 1983, he earned the President’s Medal from St. John’s.

The U.S. Air Force veteran felt right at home at St. John’s, which had a military program that has been optional since the school became coed in 1991. Before entering the seminary, he learned to fly in the Air Force. After his ordination to the priesthood, he served as a chaplain with the Air Force Reserves, retiring in 1979 with the rank of major. He also became a member of the National Association of Priest Pilots.

Father Kleinstuber, a native of Washington, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Georgetown University after graduating from Gonzaga. He later earned a master’s degree in physiology and biochemistry at George Washington University. After studying at St. Vincent College Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1964 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

During his years as a priest, Father Kleinstuber served from 1964-71 as a parochial vicar at St. Anthony Parish in Washington, where he taught religion and chemistry and was a college counselor at St. Anthony High School. From 1971-73, he served as a parochial vicar at St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring and taught life science to sixth graders and was a middle school counselor. After his quarter century on the faculty of St. John’s College High School, the priest served as pastor at St. Mary Parish in Barnesville from 1998 until 2001, and then at St. Mary Parish in Bryantown.

In statements to the Catholic Standard, members of the St. John’s community remembered his legacy at the school, which is sponsored by the Christian Brothers.

Sister Mary Catherine Mindling, a Religious Sister of Mercy who taught at St. John’s for 33 years and retired in 2018, said “Father K” was known for his insightful homilies “so true to the Gospel message” that students, teachers and faculty members could relate to and was “so pertinent to the lives and activities of our SJC community.”

She noted that, “Even after he left St. John's, so many of the graduates would invite him to officiate at key life events, including their weddings and the christening ceremonies of their children and grandchildren. He would also be present and supportive during their more challenging times, such as illness and death. He had a phenomenal memory for names and stories about the students and would greet everyone warmly.”

Jeffrey Mancabelli, the president of St. John’s College High School, said, “‘Father K’ was a member of St. John’s faculty for 25 years, and he touched the hearts and minds of generations of Cadets during that time. However, even after he left St. John’s, he remained an active part of the SJC community, returning to celebrate Mass at alumni events and participating in our senior Kairos retreats. The outpouring of messages we have received in the last few days is a testament to the significant role he continued to play in the lives of our alumni, and his loss will be felt throughout our community.”

Father Kleinstuber was the son of the late H.C. and Ellen Carey Kleinstuber. He was also preceded in death by his siblings Margaret Corbley and Jack Kleinstuber, and by a niece, Maureen Corbley Splain; a nephew, Michael Corbley; and a great niece, Jane Levey. The priest’s survivors include his nieces Catherine Corbley Levey, Nancy Kleinstuber Carey and Suzanne Blake; and his nephews Kevin Corbley, Kevin Kleinstuber, Edward Kleinstuber and John Kleinstuber.

In his homily at the Funeral Mass, Msgr. Donald Essex, a retired priest of the archdiocese, said Father Kleinstuber had followed Christ’s call, and “Jesus worked and walked” beside “Father K” throughout his ministry, which he carried out “with joy and vigor,” including at his “dream assignment” of teaching at St. John’s.

“We can rejoice and be glad he served the Lord and us so well,” Msgr. Essex said.

After the Song of Farewell and Prayer of Commendation for Father Kleinstuber, the bishop and concelebrating priests stood at the entrance of the church around the priest’s casket and sang “Salve Regina.” The mourners then gathered at the parish’s nearby cemetery, where Father Rory Conley, St. Mary’s pastor, offered prayers at the gravesite.

As people gathered afterward in the multipurpose room of St. Mary’s School for refreshments and to look at photos highlighting Father Kleinstuber’s life, Sharon Caniglia, the school’s principal, noted that he had hired her for that job 15 years earlier.

“He cared about each person,” she said, noting that he enjoyed teaching children and adults, and in his retirement, he served as a substitute teacher at St. Mary’s School and at public schools in Charles County.

Looking at a sign on the top of the stage curtain that read, “Jesus is the teacher,” Caniglia added, “He followed in Jesus’s footsteps as the master teacher.”

A 2008 Catholic Standard story noted one of Father Kleinstuber’s visits to St. Mary’s School, where he viewed the students’ projects for the school’s science fair with teacher Ron Thomas, a St. John’s graduate.

The priest, who had walked to the school wearing his “Father K” ballcap, smiled and said, “One of the kids did a statistical analysis of M&Ms for the science fair. He separated them by color.”

That article noted that visiting the school was all in a day’s work for the veteran priest, who typically came over for morning prayer, read to kindergarten students and assisted with science exercises, such as helping students dissect frogs.

In his retirement, Father Kleinstuber lived on Cobb Island in a house overlooking the Potomac River, and he continued to celebrate Masses at parishes in Charles County. “I figure I have to go to church. I might as well get a good seat!” he joked.