Kleist was born in the one of the villages which were later merged to form the town of Zabrze in the Kingdom of Prussia. He attended school in Gleiwitz, then Beuthen, and in 1892 entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Bleijenbeek castle in Afferden, the Netherlands, after which he was sent to the United States. For a year he taught at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. Then, for four years, he lectured to the young Jesuits of the Buffalo Mission of the German Province. Missouri. In 1902 Kleist came to Saint Louis, where he worked on revising Kaegi's 1884 Greek primer.
Kleist joined with Joseph Lilly, C.M., to produce a more modern English translation of the Bible than the Douai Bible then in common usage among Catholics. Under their editorship the work was laid to produce to the Kleist-Lilly translation, published posthumously in 1954, although work was completed by Christmas 1948. It never gained widespread acceptance, though, and was later totally supplanted by the translations produced by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which culminated in the publication of the New American Bible in 1970.
- A short grammar of classical Greek (1902). Author: Adolf Kaegi 1884, revised James Aloysius Kleist St. Louis, Mo., B. Herder 1902
- The epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch 1946
- Classical essays presented to James A. Kleist, S.J., published by The Classical Bulletin (Saint Louis University) 1946.
- Teaching of the Twelve Apostles
- with T. J. Lyman. The Psalms in Rhythmic Prose. 1954.
- J. A. Kleist and J. L. Lilly, The New Testament (Milwaukee, 1954)
- Kleist, JA Psychiatry and Catholicism. VanderVeldt,
- Classical essays presented to James A. Kleist, S.J., Richard Eugene Arnold, James Aloysius Kleist - 1946 "He received his elementary education at Hindenburg (then Zabrze), his secondary education at Gleiwitz, and his college education at Beuthen, where he finished at the age of eighteen. Four days after his eighteenth birthday he entered the Society of Jesus at Blyenbeck, Holland [sic], where, as a result of its suppression in Germany, the German Province of the Society was at the time preparing its candidates. Since the Society of Jesus had been suppressed in Germany he was forced to go into exile to be able to follow his vocation. After his ordination and the completion of his course of training in the Society, Father Kleist taught at Creighton Prep., Omaha, for one year. From 1908 to 1917, he taught Latin, Greek, Religion, and History at Sacred Heart College, ."
- The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference : Volume 6 Charles George Herbermann, Edward Aloysius Pace, Condé Bénoist Pallen - 1913 - For nearly forty years there was a distinct German division called the Buffalo mission of the German Province, with colleges at Buffalo, New York; Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio;Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin ; two Indian missions in South
- Heuser, Herman Joseph (1964). The American Ecclesiastical Review: 150. Missing or empty
|title=(help) "Another version, by James Kleist, S.J., and Joseph Lilly, C.M., was admired by some experts. But the general agreement was that these did not eliminate the need for a more representatively American version."