| January 13, 2009
Outer Banks Catholics mourn the death of beloved retired pastor
By ED BECKLEY
The Rev. Joseph Klaus, 80, of Southern Shores, who was instrumental in
the growth of the Catholic Church on the Outer Banks, including the
establishment of Our Lady of the Seas parish in Buxton, passed away
Dec. 30, 2008.
Klaus died of a heart attack a couple weeks after surgery for skin cancer at Duke University Hospital.
He served as pastor of the old Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Kill
Devil Hills from 1963 to 1972, many years before it was destroyed by an
“Father had a way of wrapping his arms around your heart,” said friend David Parks of Duck recently.
Klaus was a “priestly man,” according to the Rev. Bill
Walsh, pastor of Holy Redeemer by the Sea Church in Kitty Hawk.
“His love and care for the young and old and for needy families
and his love for the Catholic Mass and his sense of humor truly defined
him,” Walsh said. “He could tell a story and hit that
punchline. He had good timing.”
Father Klaus retired in 1981, but never stopped ministering. He most
recently celebrated Mass and anointed the sick at Britthaven and Spring
Arbor and helped with Masses at St. Ann Catholic Church in Edenton
(where he was twice the pastor). He also set up an altar and said Mass
in private homes in Corolla. A number of parishioners in Corolla have
found it difficult to attend Mass in Kitty Hawk, especially during the
traffic of summer. Walsh said Father Klaus seemed the happiest in
his life over the past four years while tending to Jesus' flock with
the Corolla Masses.
Even the Bishop of Raleigh, the Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge, who
presided at Klaus’ funeral Mass on Jan. 5 at St. Ann, noted his
“missionary zeal.” The church was filled to overflowing for
the funeral, with dozens of people traveling from the Outer Banks to
Edenton and rows of clergy from throughout the state. The Bishop was
moved by the love shown for Klaus and the priesthood.
Walsh said Fr. Klaus' “astuteness in real estate” also led
to the Diocese of Raleigh purchasing properties in Nags Head and
Buxton, which are now the sites of the Holy Trinity by the Sea Chapel,
and Our Lady of the Seas Church, respectively.
Klaus also served as chaplain at the former U.S. Navy Base in Buxton.
According to the history published by Our Lady of the Seas, “Bill
Dillon, a member of our Catholic community, introduced Father Klaus to
Mr. Lietner who owned the Quidley tract located off Highway 12
north of Cape Hatteras School. This 11-acre property was
purchased in 1971 as the future site of Our Lady of the Seas
Klaus also purchased the residence next to Holy Trinity with his own
money and donated it to the Diocese for a rectory. And in 2006 he
offered his own home at 197 Ocean Boulevard to his brothers of the
Annunciata Council of the Knights of Columbus/Outer Banks. The Knights
is a worldwide fraternal organization dedicated to church and community
service and spreading the word of the Gospel.
Former Grand Knight Mike Kopnski of Duck said, “Father would
travel anywhere, any time, to give anyone last rites (The Sacrament of
the Sick). I believe Father never missed a day saying Mass in his
Kopnski recalled two long trips that Klaus had taken, including one to Rome.
“And when he got off the plane, the first thing he did was find a church in which to say Mass,” he added.
Kopnski also expressed gratitude for the generosity of Father in giving
his residence to “The Klaus Association,” a 501-c3
non-profit organization comprised of the Knights of Columbus members.
The association is renting the home and using the net proceeds to help
support a number of worthy local charities and one special project.
Kopnski said the Knights are sending donations to Peru to reconstruct a
church that had been destroyed by an earthquake. “It couldn't be
done if it weren't for Father,” he said.
Roc Sansotta, president of Cove Realty in Nags Head and executor of
Klaus' estate has been an altar server most of his life. His first
encounters with Klaus were in assisting him during Mass. Sansotta said
he was struck with Father's humor and his passion to help the sick and
“I'd take him to eat and he would always ask for a doggy bag so he could feed someone else,” he said.
Sansotta added that Klaus came across as a man of modest means, and he
would try to solicit the restaurants for gift cards that he could give
away to others in need.
In fact, Klaus was not only an astute judge of real estate for his
Diocese, he had invested wisely locally himself. Sansotta said
the priest had as many as 40 properties, including an inn and a
partnership in a local shopping center. But he bequeathed everything in
his will to his beloved Catholic Church.
Some of the proceeds will go toward the evangelical television
programming of Mother Angelica. Klaus would say that his monthly bill
for satellite TV was the best investment he ever made because of the
revitalizing holy news lovingly bestowed 24 hours a day. He recommended
it constantly to his fellow Christians.
Sansotta said it was also Klaus’ hope that some of his estate
would go towards the purchase of land and construction of a church or
chapel in Corolla – or for the purchase of an existing structure
there for a church.
“This is the kind of man he was,” said Sansotta. “He
didn't invest for himself. All his investments were designed to help
other people. He was always giving, no matter what.”
David Parks is also a lawyer and represented Father in business matters. He affirmed Sansotta's observations.
“He had the means to live quite comfortably, but he chose a
Spartan existence. I asked him about it and he said, 'I didn't take a
vow of poverty, but I live a life of poverty,'” Parks said,
adding that “Father felt firmly that everything he earned was
He recounted that even those who were close to him never saw Klaus buy
anything for himself. The priest would love to joke that he could
squeeze an awful lot out of the buffalo on a nickel. Parks said he was
personally aware of individuals and families that father helped with
food, rent, and education.
“Father said he knew from age 4 he wanted to be a priest,”
Parks said. “He cared for sick people since he was a child. He
cooked for them, washed their clothes, and there is nothing he would
not do for you in his ministering of the needs of people.”
Klaus served as a priest for more than 50 years. And he did it with
great humor, his friends said. It was not unlike him to crack a joke,
break into song or dance a jig without notice, they said. “Have I
scandalized you yet?” he would ask. He had a slight accent from
his upstate New York, Polish-German heritage. He was brought up in a
Jewish neighborhood near Buffalo by two women who cared for him after
his parents died when he was a child. He worked in the Jewish market as
“He was the only priest I ever knew who spoke Yiddish,”
Monsignor Gerald L. Lewis said at Klaus’ funeral. “He was
lively, welcoming, funny, friendly and prayerful…. Jesus
destroyed death forever. Life has not ended but has changed. Father
Klaus never doubted this and he intended to go to heaven. May perpetual
light shine upon him.”
Klaus was a graduate of Canisius College with a degree in English and
was ordained in 1954 after attending St. Bonaventure University's
Christ the King Seminary. He had a robust career serving in churches
throughout the state. He is interred at St. Ann Catholic Cemetery.