Long-serving Cardinal Baum lived a generous response to God

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A cardinal's biretta rests on an empty chair. Credit: Alan Holdren / CNA.

Cardinal William W. Baum, a past Archbishop of Washington and the longest-serving American cardinal, died on Thursday at the age of 88. His death prompted outpourings of thanksgiving for his life and a special telegram from Pope Francis.

“As we grieve our loss we also thank God for his ministry,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said July 24. “Cardinal Baum was a joy-filled priest with a firm personal commitment to serve the Lord, which he did faithfully for 64 years of ordained life.”

Pope Francis in a July 25 telegram to Cardinal Wuerl commended the deceased prelate’s soul to “God the Father of mercies.”
 
“I offer my heartfelt condolences, together with the assurance of my prayers, to you and to all the faithful of the Archdiocese,” the Pope said.

Cardinal Baum passed away July 23 in the District of Columbia. He was Archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980 and was a cardinal for 39 years.

The future cardinal was born in Dallas, Texas Nov. 21, 1926 to a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. His family moved to Kansas City, where he began to serve as an altar boy at age ten. He took the last name of his Jewish stepfather, who died when he was twelve, the Washington Post reports.

He studied at Glennon College and Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was ordained a priest in May 1951. He served in Kansas City-area parishes and taught at several high schools and colleges. He studied in Rome at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, earning a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology, the Archdiocese of Washington says.

Pope John XXIII named him a monsignor in 1961. During the Second Vatican Council, he served as an advisor to Kansas City Bishop Charles Helmsing. The Holy See later named him a “peritus,” an expert, for the council. In that role he served under the Secretariat for Christian Unity. He participated in the drafting process of “Unitatis Redintegratio,” the council’s decree on ecumenism.

Cardinal Baum was a leader in ecumenical and interreligious work. He served on several joint groups and committees between the Catholic Church and bodies like the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation.

In February 1970, Pope Paul VI chose Msgr. Baum to become Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, a Missouri diocese. He chose as his episcopal motto “Ministry of Reconciliation.” In March 1973, the Pope named him Archbishop of Washington.

He had several leadership roles in the U.S. bishops’ conference. He was chancellor for the Catholic University of America and a delegate to the World Synod of Bishops in 1971.

He was named a cardinal in 1976. He would serve in three papal conclaves and in several Vatican congregations.

Cardinal Baum served as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and was Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department which oversees issues involved with the forgiveness of sins. He was on the commission that drafted the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis’ telegram to Cardinal Wuerl praised Cardinal Baum’s “long service” to the Holy See.

Cardinal Wuerl thanked God for “the generosity with which Cardinal Baum responded with a quiet but firm and enduring yes to God’s call.”

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