By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Physically, he spent the majority of his years of priestly service well outside his boyhood home.
But Cardinal William Wakefield Baum never stopped loving Kansas City, nor the diocese where he was ordained a priest, nor the parish where he first received the sacraments of Eucharist, Confirmation, and above all else, Reconciliation.
Reconciliation was the theme of Cardinal Baum’s ministry, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told some 200 people who gathered at that boyhood parish, St. Peter in Kansas City, for a memorial to the priest whose 39 years of service as a cardinal made him the longest serving American cardinal in history.
Cardinal Baum, 88, died July 23 as the Little Sisters of the Poor prayed around his deathbed at the St. Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, D.C.
When he was consecrated as a bishop in 1970 for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, he carefully chose the motto: Ministerium reconciliationis, The Ministry of Reconciliation.
“It was in this parish church that he made his first Confession and experienced the unique joy that comes from the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“It was here in this parish church that that he received his first Holy Communion. It was here in this parish church that the Holy Spirit would be poured into his heart in the Sacrament of Confirmation,” he said.
“This is where the seeds were planted for discerning a priestly vocation. It would be here that he would celebrate his first Mass,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“Cardinal Baum always loved Kansas City, no matter where the service of the church took him. He always had an affection and devotion to this community (of St. Peter Parish) and to the people who formed him in discipleship,” Archbishop Naumann said.
The Kansas City, Kan. archbishop who is also serving as apostolic administrator of the Missouri diocese as it awaits a new bishop told the congregation that he and Cardinal Baum had three things in common — Kenrick Seminary, Cardinal John Carberry, and Kansas City.
It was Cardinal Carberry who consecrated Msgr. William Baum as Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in 1970. Five years later, Cardinal Carberry would ordain the young Father Joseph F. Naumann as a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
But in between, Archbishop Naumann recalled, the future Cardinal paid a special visit to his alma mater seminary where he spoke to seminarians including the future archbishop of his role at the Second Vatican Council where he served as an “expert” with emphasis on ecumenism and helped draft key council documents, and his subsequent work, even before he became a bishop, as the first executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
It was a role that God uniquely equipped him for, Archbishop Naumann said. He was the son of a devout Catholic mother, Mary Leona, and a Presbyterian father, Harold White, who died before the future cardinal could barely know him. His mother subsequently remarried a Jewish man, Jerome Baum, who adopted the boy and gave him his surname.
But that day in that classroom at Kenrick, it was the elegance of the man that struck the young seminarian, Archbishop Naumann said.
“Cardinal Baum was gracious to everyone he encountered,” Archbishop Naumann said.
Their friendship grew deeper, he said, when Cardinal Baum learned that Archbishop Naumann was chosen to serve the “other” Kansas City.
“Once I was appointed Archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., he had an even deeper interest in me because I was now part of the Kansas City area,” Archbishop Naumann said.
He recalled that when he publicly told Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, not to present herself for Communion because of her veto of a bill that would have restricted abortion in the state, Cardinal Baum called him from Rome to express his support.
Cardinal Baum’s service to the church reflected a brilliant mind, Archbishop Naumann said.
He served the southern Missouri diocese for just three years before he was called to be the archbishop of Washington, D.C. In 1976, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals, then took part in the two conclaves of 1978, the first to elect Pope John Paul I, and the second, to elect the first non-Italian pope in centuries, St. John Paul II. Still under the age of 80 in 2005, he was also part of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
In 1980, St. John Paul II would call him to the Vatican to serve first as the prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education, where he oversaw seminaries and universities around the world. Ten years later, he would be named prefect of the Sacred Penitentiary, dealing with matters of conscience.
But the Cardinal’s support and love for Kansas City never waned in his generosity, no matter how busy he must have been or ill he would become, Archbishop Naumann said.
In 1996, Father Jerry Waris, then pastor of St. Peter, asked Cardinal Baum’s help in a major capital campaign to expand the parish’s burgeoning school and other physical needs.
In 2004, Deacon Ross Beaudoin, administrator of St. James Parish, once pastored by Cardinal Baum, asked for his help in a campaign to raise money for badly needed repairs to the historic midtown church.
Cardinal Baum not only said yes, but made a personal visit to the parish in a whirlwind visit to Kansas City that May which included the dedication of the Cardinal Baum Legacy Center at St. Peter, and also the ordination of Bishop Robert W. Finn as coadjutor bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
And just last year, less than a year before he would return home to the Lord, Bishop Finn asked for Cardinal Baum’s blessing and assistance in the ongoing “Forward in Faith” campaign to secure the future of Catholic education in the diocese.
Cardinal Baum wrote an eloquent letter, printed in its entirety in the Aug. 22, 2014 edition of The Catholic Key.
“I know my time serving as prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican and my love of Catholic schools were influenced by the wonderful experiences I had both as a student at St. Peter’s Parish and as a priest of the diocese,” Cardinal Baum wrote.
He noted in his letter that Catholic schools “suffer from too few students and greater expenses.” He also noted “a deterioration of the fabric of society with a deepening emphasis on materialism and relativism.”
“This is not a simple coincidence,” Cardinal Baum wrote to the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“We need champions to rise up in our Catholic communities who are willing to sacrifice for Catholic education and Catholic schools, and possibly even face criticism for doing so,” he wrote.
“His life was larger than life,” Archbishop Naumann said. “His achievements would be a source of pride to anyone. But Cardinal Baum did not perceive his own life from the perspective of the world.”
Instead, the archbishop said, Cardinal Baum measured his own life by a goal loftier than any office or title he held.
“He was first and above all else a disciple of Jesus Christ, and the greatest moment of his life was the day he was baptized,” he said.
“William Wakefield Baum heard and believed in the Word of Jesus, and he became a sharer in the victory of life,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“He would have been gratified that so many would gather tonight to pray for him, that the Lord he served so well would bring him to his lasting home,” the archbishop said.