Cardinal William Baum speaks at a May 12 Mass at the National Shrine  marking his 60th anniversary as a priest.
Cardinal William Baum speaks at a May 12 Mass at the National Shrine marking his 60th anniversary as a priest.
As he has every day for six decades, Cardinal William Baum celebrated Mass on May 12, but on that day, he was joined by about 60 priests, 12 bishops and five cardinals for a special Mass of Thanksgiving at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, to celebrate the retired cardinal's 60th anniversary as a priest. On that very day 60 years earlier, on May 12, 1951, the future cardinal was ordained as a priest in Kansas City, Mo., where he had grown up and answered the call to priesthood that became his life's work, and his life's greatest blessing.

"I have not words enough to express my gratitude for this day," Cardinal Baum said in a gentle voice, as he addressed the congregation after Communion.

Cardinal Baum, who served as the archbishop of Washington from 1973-80, has witnessed and made history in a long life of service to the Catholic Church. Now 84, he hosted Pope John Paul II's pastoral visit to Washington, D.C., in 1979, that included a Papal Mass for 175,000 people on the National Mall.

The cardinal, who headed the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education from 1980-90, later served on a commission that drafted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was published in 1994. Cardinal Baum participated in the conclaves of cardinals that elected Pope John Paul I and John Paul II in 1978, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

Pope Paul VI named Cardinal Baum as a cardinal in 1976, the U.S. bicentennial year, when the then-archbishop of Washington was 49. Earlier this spring, Cardinal Baum became the longest serving U.S. cardinal in history, surpassing the 34 years of service of the legendary Cardinal James Gibbons, who served as the cardinal archbishop of Baltimore from June 1886 until his death in March 1921.

At Cardinal Baum's 60th anniversary Mass, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington since 2006, presented his predecessor with a special gift from the priests of Washington - a chalice and paten given in honor of Cardinal Baum that will be used at the archdiocese's new Blessed John Paul II Seminary, which is scheduled to open in September. The chalice is inscribed with Cardinal Baum's name and notes his 60th anniversary as a priest, May 12, 1951-2011.

"It is very close to my heart, preparing men for the priesthood," said Cardinal Baum, expressing thanks for that gift. In a recent interview, he called the priesthood "the love of my life."

Father William Gurnee, who will serve as the director of spiritual formation and as the spiritual director at the Blessed John Paul II Seminary in Washington, said after the anniversary Mass that using that chalice at the new seminary's chapel will provide the seminarians and priests there with "a daily reminder of fidelity to priesthood and fidelity to Christ," qualities that he said Cardinal Baum has exemplified in his life.

In his homily at the anniversary Mass, Cardinal Wuerl praised Cardinal Baum's priestly service, thanking him for his "faithful response to God's call to be his priest and bishop, and for your living out that call each day of your priestly and episcopal ministry." Washington's current archbishop said he was honored to preach from "this pulpit that you know very, very well," and he noted Cardinal Baum's earlier service as archbishop of Washington and as chancellor of the Catholic University of America and chairman of the Board of the National Shrine.

Cardinal Baum, he said, has carried out all his assignments "with the vision of priesthood as Jesus Christ at work in his Church... To do this, to respond to the call, to become this image, this icon of Christ, takes two virtues, faith and love, both of which, Your Eminence, you have manifested over these 60 years."

After his ordination, Cardinal Baum first served as a parish priest and Catholic educator in Kansas City. During the Second Vatican Council, he served as a peritus (theological expert) and worked with the Secretariat for Christian Unity, and participated in the drafting of the council's 1964 Decree on Ecumenism. That same year, the U.S. bishops formed the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, with then-Msgr. Baum serving as its first executive director.
In 1970, Pope Paul VI named him as the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., where Bishop Baum served until being appointed as archbishop of Washington three years later. Later, after leading the archdiocese for seven years and serving as prefect for the Congregation of Catholic Education for a decade, Cardinal Baum was named Major Penitentiary for the Holy See, and dealt with issues concerning matters of conscience. Cardinal Baum, whose episcopal motto is "Minister of Reconciliation," also has promoted the use of the Sacrament of Penance throughout his life as a priest. He retired on Nov. 22, 2001, the day after his 75th birthday, and lives in Washington.

In concluding his homily, Cardinal Wuerl thanked Cardinal Baum for his faithful service to the Church. "As we thank you, we also ask God to continue to bless you, as we join in celebrating your commitment, your ministry, your service as a priest of Christ."

Cardinal Baum, who sat in a wheelchair at the side of the altar, offered the final blessing at the Mass, joined by Cardinal Wuerl who stood beside him. In his remarks, Cardinal Baum offered special thanks to the priests there, many of whom he ordained, for their service to Christ and to their people. He noted how every day, priests celebrate Mass, hear people's Confessions and bring the sacraments to their people. "What could be more significant, more helpful to all of us?" he asked, noting that he expressed his thanks to them, "as a priest who's been a priest for 60 years."

Cardinal Baum also thanked the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., for their help to him, and for "their loving response to God's call in religious life." He also thanked Msgr. James Gillen, his retired priest secretary, for his years of faithful service.

Among the bishops concelebrating the Mass was Bishop Robert Finn of Cardinal Baum's home Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., who brought a card signed by many priests there, in honor of their native son, the retired cardinal. The concelebrants at the anniversary Mass also included Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, and retired Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

Cardinal McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington from 2001-06, praised his predecessor as a "pathfinder" in his work for ecumenism, saying the prelate's priestly ministry has been marked by "his wisdom and passion for the Lord."

After the Mass, a long line of bishops, priests and laypeople waited to offer personal congratulations to Cardinal Baum on his anniversary and have their picture taken with him.

Father Tom Kalita, the pastor of St. Peter Parish in Olney, who was ordained to the priesthood by then-Archbishop Baum in 1974, praised Cardinal Baum as a man whose dialogue with fellow Catholics and with people of other Christian denominations was rooted in respect. "You build bridges by having a respect for individual persons... He always sees people as children of God, as brothers and sisters in Jesus," Father Kalita said.

Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, now the rector of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, coordinated the 1979 papal liturgies in Washington. As was the case with the archdiocese's planning for Pope Benedict XVI's visit in 2008, local church officials only had a few months to plan for Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit. Msgr. Jameson said Cardinal Baum assembled a good team and offered "gentle leadership" in a spirit of collaboration. Cardinal Baum has summarized Pope John Paul's visit then as a special "moment of grace" for the Church of Washington.

Father Francis Early, the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bushwood, served as a deacon for years and assisted then-Archbishop Baum at Masses throughout the archdiocese. "He was a priest for the people," said Father Early, who praised Cardinal Baum as a teacher of the faith who could always offer fresh insights on that day's Gospel.

Father Early said he will never forget the spirit of joy that Cardinal Baum exhibited each time he approached the altar for Mass. That same spirit of joy marked Cardinal Baum's Mass for his 60th anniversary as a priest, where he thanked the priests present who were "called and say yes to God," words that reflect his own life and ministry.