Cardinal William Baum 1926-2015

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Late yesterday evening, Cardinal William Wakefield Baum was summoned out of this world to the home of the Lord he loved so well and served with such fervent dedication. In this moment of sorrow, let our faith be our consolation and eternal life our hope.

Looking back at the life of Cardinal Baum as we mourn his death, we do so with deep appreciation for his faithful response to God’s call to be his priest and bishop and for his living out of that call each day in his priestly and episcopal assignments. His Eminence served as the third Archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980, and he was created a cardinal 39 years ago in May 1976, making him the longest-serving American cardinal in our nation’s history.

Throughout his ministry here, as elsewhere, he set a great example, modeling the love of Jesus as he worked for Catholic education, Christian unity and social harmony in building up the kingdom of God in our midst. As in the case of every priest, quietly the voice of the Holy Spirit echoed in his heart.

We thank God that with generosity Cardinal Baum responded with a quiet but firm and enduring “yes” to God’s call. He began his priestly ministry at the age of 24 with his ordination for the Diocese of Kansas City in 1951. In 1962, he was named an advisor to the Second Vatican Council and assigned to work with the Secretariat for Christian Unity. In this capacity, he participated in drafting the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. Before coming to the Church of Washington, he was named Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in 1970, taking the episcopal motto of “Ministry of Reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

In 1980, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Baum Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, where for ten years he oversaw seminaries and Catholic colleges and universities around the world. It was in this capacity that Cardinal Baum oversaw, at the request of Saint John Paul II, the apostolic visitation of all of the seminaries and houses of formation in the United States. From 1990 until his retirement in 2001, he served as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary. He also served as a member of the Congregation of Bishops, Oriental Churches, Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Evangelization of Peoples. Among his many accomplishments during his service in Rome, His Eminence helped prepare the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Saint John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Underlying this diversity of assignments was Cardinal Baum’s total dedication to a single vision – the vision of the priesthood as Christ at work in his Church and his personal firm commitment to serve the Lord as his priest. For 64 years he responded faithfully to the call to become an image of Jesus, dedicated to manifesting Christ’s love and teaching, leading and sanctifying those entrusted to his care. We thank God that Cardinal Baum was in so many places, in so many ways, for so many of us, God’s good and faithful servant.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the resurrection, the life. Whoever believes in me shall live even in death and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). As we raise our voices in prayer for Cardinal Baum, may the God of mercy and love receive his faithful servant and priest and welcome his noble soul into the glory and peace of the heavenly kingdom, there to rejoice in the communion of God and all the saints.