By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — “We do not come to meet Christ as if he were absent from the rest of our lives. We come together to deepen our awareness of, and commitment to the action of his Spirit in the whole of our lives at every moment. We come together to acknowledge the love of God poured out among us in the work if the Spirit, to stand in awe and praise. . .
“People in love make signs of love, not only to express their love but to deepen it. Love never expressed dies. Christians’ faith in Christ and in each other must be expressed in signs and symbols of celebration, or it will die.”
Though a young Father William A. Bauman wrote those words for the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy nearly 39 years ago in the landmark document “Music in Catholic Worship,” they were certainly the expression of a wide consultation of lay, clergy and religious.
And yet, they were still the vision of a deeply gifted, deeply pastoral priest that generations of Catholics in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph came to know simply as “Father Bill.”
That was the way of Father Bauman, 76, who died on Palm Sunday, April 17, barely two weeks after he celebrated his 51st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“The moment you met Father Bauman, he was calculating what your gifts were and how they could be used,” said Glenda Jacobson, who worked on the staff of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Oakview. “He was gifted at getting you to do your job and feeling like you owned it.”
It was at St. Charles that Father Bauman had the vision for “Foundations in Ministry,” a program in which non-ordained professional staff, such as Jacobson and Benedictine Sister Esther Fangman, would train lay people to assume leadership roles in music, liturgy and the prayer life of a worshipping community.
“Bill was leadership,” Sister Esther said at Father Bauman’s vigil and prayer service on the eve of his funeral Mass of Resurrection April 25 at St. Thomas More Parish, the last parish that Father Bauman pastored before his retirement.
“He was a human being who knew his humaness, and then he embodied leadership, he embodied priesthood, he embodied being a pastor,” Sister Esther said.
Those were the heady days in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, when then-Bishop Charles Helmsing, one of the council fathers, assembled around him the best young talent in the diocese to carry out the vision of the council, in much the same way that his namesake, St. Charles Borromeo, implemented the reforms of the Council of Trent in his Archdiocese of Milan some 400 years earlier.
And when Bishop Helmsing’s successor, Bishop John J. Sullivan, came to the diocese with a vision for the systematic training of professional lay ecclesial ministers, he quickly learned of “Foundations of Ministry,” and tapped Father Bauman to be the founding director for the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry.
Maureen Kelly, who was on the Center’s first staff, said Father Bauman had a way of bringing out the best in every one who worked with, not for, him.
“What struck me about him was how collaborative he was,” Kelly said. “He modeled on our staff what we were doing in parishes. He empowered. He listened. He changed his mind. He didn’t come up with plans and say, “This is the way we are going to do it.” He worked with us.”
Kelly said that Father Bauman sent the Center’s staff out to parishes to listen.
“It was our job to listen to the leadership in parishes, and from what we heard, we were to design classes and programs according to what they needed,” Kelly said.
“What he wanted was competent, competent lay ministers in parishes, and he always said, “competent” twice,” she said.
Jacobson said that Father Bauman once told her that as a youth, he didn’t know if he wanted to be a scientist, an engineer, or a musician.
“He said he became a priest so that he could do all of them,” she said.
He certainly had the pedigree.
Father Bauman’s father, John, was a chemical engineer and CEO of Solo Cup Co. of Grandview, which employed over 1,200 people in several states. His mother Theresa was also a chemist who taught high school chemistry for 20 years.
His brother John is professor emeritus of chemistry at University of Missouri-Columbia. His brother Joseph served on the IBM task force that developed the personal computer, and was IBM’s vice president in charge of production and marketing of the machine that continues to change the world. He later became dean of the School of Business at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Father Bauman’s sister, Mary Ann Yeats, is the first female district court judge in Australia, serving the Western District in Perth. His youngest sister, Linda, taught elementary school for 30 years and is married to John Shumway, a champion bass fisherman who spent many hours on the Lake of the Ozarks with his priest brother-in-law.
Shumway said he didn’t need to listen to the weather forecasts when Father Bill was on board his bass boat.
“He was so into the weather,” Shumway said. “He knew exactly where the fronts were and how they were setting up.”
Last year, at the request of Bishop Robert W. Finn, Father Bauman agreed to step out of retirement and serve as temporary administrator of one more parish, Holy Spirit in Lee’s Summit, effective Jan. 1.
Ten days later, after discovering unusually high blood sugar levels, Father Bauman’s doctors told him that an aggressive cancer was attacking his pancreas and liver. He was given two months to two years to live.
Word quickly spread around the diocese, especially to his brother priests who held Father Bauman in high esteem, and heaven was bombarded with prayers.
“There is not room enough in The Catholic Key to print all the reasons the priests of this diocese respect Bill Bauman,” said Father Bob Rost, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Hamilton and its mission, Mary Immaculate in Gallatin.
“He has been a giant in this diocese for 51 years,” Father Rost said. “If there is any liturgical mentor for priests in this diocese, he is that. We all owe him an enormous debt.”
His imprint is not only on the diocese, but on the nation. Many of the programs pioneered under Father Bauman�s leadership became national norms.
“He had us working on the catechumenate (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) before the (U.S. bishops) documents came out,” said Sister of Charity Cele Breen, who served on the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry staff.
As pastor of St. Stephen Parish, now Our Lady of Peace, in northeast Kansas City in 1970, Father Bauman had the idea that his small parish could coordinate services and programs with two neighboring small parishes, and contacted their pastors, Father Jerry Waris at Holy Trinity and Father Ernie Gauthier at St. Michael.
“What a great idea to combine resources and work as a team,” Father Waris said in his homily at the April 24 prayer service. “Bishop Helmsing trusted him and gave us the chance to work in a collaborative way.”
It made its mark not only on parish life, but on the city of Kansas City.
The three-parish ministry team founded Northeast Cooperative Social Services, an agency serving the poor which has evolved today into the multi-service Bishop Sullivan Center, feeding hundreds of people daily and providing job training and search skills, air conditioners for the elderly, no-cost loans and emergency utility assistance among other services.
The team also got a federal grant to launch “Dial-A-Ride,” a cab-based, low cost transportation system for the elderly that has evolved into Share-A-Fare which continues today.
“These were important events,” Father Waris said. “They are recorded in the hearts of all of us who are called to be church together. We know how it was, how good it was, and what the impact it had on the lives of those we serve and our lives, and we will settle for nothing less.”
For Father Bauman and the priests and lay people he led by his example, the Second Vatican Council was not about translating the Mass into vernacular languages. It was transforming the church in service to the people.
“It was not about bells and robes,” Father Waris said. “It was about a Pentecost of fire, where we still believe that we have something to say and that leadership will listen.”
And it was about complete trust in God, Father Waris said.
“As Bill lived, so he died, emptying himself, weak, vulnerable, so he could open himself to God and the call home.”
Even as he was dying, Father Bauman taught by example. Days after his diagnosis of terminal cancer, he opened a journal on CaringBridge.org.
“Prayer seems easier, more clear-headed,” he wrote on Feb. 12, the day he began a double chemotherapy regimen in hopes of slowing the cancer’s spread.
He expressed gratitude for Benedictine Abbot Gregory Polan’s gift of a Grail Psalter which the monks of Conception Abbey had translated.
“The Psalms for me have done a wonderful job of keeping God big — immense — and in charge,” he wrote. “Giving God glory and trusting his love is certainly what it is all about now.”
Soon after, his chemotherapy regimen gave him a deeply painful, burning rash.
“It takes special effort to pray in pain, to focus on Christ as companion on the journey, to say yes to each day’s journey one day at a time,” he wrote on Feb. 22.
Five days later, still in pain, Father Bauman wrote: “Prayer is different in times too of sharp pain. I find two ways quite enriching. The first is to actually focus on the pain, letting it be my point of dying and rising. . . While it is more comforting to focus on a mountain or sunset or flowing stream, it is equally consoling to focus on a pain that is transforming me into eternal life.
“I also enjoy picking one of the Psalms. . . I read it very slowly, syllable by syllable, and sooner rather than later, a phrase or thought relates to my pain in the big picture of God’s love and glory.”
On March 1, Father Bauman recalled a retreat he gave for 8th grade students some 10 years earlier.
“One group of boys asked me the very profound question: “Father Bill, are you afraid of to die?”
“I told them that I had talked life over with Jesus every day since I was their age. Why would I be afraid to meet Christ now?”
On March 14, he wrote: “Lent moves forward with its challenge to keep asking the big questions. Just who am I? What does the future hold? What can I find to do each day to bring some joy into someone’s life?”
On March 21, less than a month before he was to die, Father Bauman wrote of a beautiful spring day.
“Something way down deep says, “Lord, could I be in charge just for today?” But I would not want to miss one of those days of which I would say: “Lord, had you made me for this day alone, it would have been worth living.”
On the morning of April 4, he wrote about attending the wedding of his youngest niece, Amy, and of celebrating his ordination anniversary.
“That kind of pushed me over the limit,” Father Bauman wrote. Hardly enough energy to sit in a chair.
“Gratitude still comes easily. Thanks to God for the life of a priest. Thanks for a wonderful family. Thanks for our church, for all who have supported me so faithfully these last 10 weeks. Pray with me now that I may keep my hands lifted up to our God in a joyful, “Come Lord Jesus,” this week.”
That evening, Father Bauman wrote his final entry:
“I will move into the Little Sisters (of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan Center) tomorrow. . . I look forward very much to the daily Eucharist, to sharing Communion with all of you. As Jesus is blest and broken, so may each of us in our daily bread be bread that is shared with Christ and become the one Body, growing into resurrection and life.”
The family has requested memorial contributions to the Bishop Sullivan Center, 6435 Truman Rd., Kansas City, MO 64126.