‘St. Francis of Marylake’ was known across state

Father Raphael Kitz, who spent 27 years instructing novices about the Carmelite life and teachings at Marylake Monastery, died June 10. He was 87.

He was born Dec. 17, 1930, in Minneapolis, Minn., to Andrew and Florence Bergland Kitz. He became an accomplished pianist, studying at what is now the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis and later Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Despite his talent for music, even playing at Carnegie Hall, he felt called to join the Carmelites, according to a 2009 Arkansas Catholic article.

“It was just God’s grace — he kept calling,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything more explicit than that.”

Attracted to the “the contemplative life, the prayer life,” he made his first profession of vows as a Discalced Carmelite Friar of the Province of St. Therese on Sept. 30, 1954. On Dec. 8, 1958, he made his solemn vows.

After studying theology at the International College of the Discalced Carmelites in Rome, he was ordained a priest Sept. 19, 1959.

Throughout 58 years of priestly ministry, Father Kitz served as a confessor and spiritual director at several Carmelite communities and in parish ministry in Texas.

At Marylake Monastery in Little Rock, he has been a novice master, helping in the initial formation of young men who wish to join the order. He was also known for his ministry to the Carmelite nuns, Carmelite seculars and helping at Catholic parishes throughout the state.

He was a scholar of Scripture and the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. He was referred to as “St. Francis at Marylake” by Marylake Superior Father John Michael Payne, who died in January 2017. Father Kitz had a great love for animals, including his dogs, cockatiels — including one named Dante whom he cared for 21 years until his death — and regularly fed the ducks and geese at Marylake.

Though it would have made sense to retire in 2009, after 50 years as a Carmelite priest, Father Kitz admitted, “None of us really retire. We just keep plugging.”

He is survived by one brother, Ronald Kitz.

A vigil was held June 14 at Marylake Monastery and a Mass of Christian Burial June 15.

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