Diocesan History-Shaping the Future 1970-1973


“‘All this from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 18).’ Maintained by this vision of St. Paul on the mysteries of reconciliation, I begin this day my service as Bishop in your midst.” -Bishop William Wakefield Baum

The Call

Born of Harold and Mary Leona (Hayes) White, William came into the world in Dallas, TX. His father was Presbyterian, his mother, Catholic. After his father’s death, his mother moved to Kansas City, MO, and married Jerome C. Baum, a Jewish businessman who adopted William. This early, deeply personal exposure to faiths other than Catholicism was a providential preparation for his lifelong dedication to ecumenism, when as a bishop, William Baum rose to a position where his actions would make a decisive difference in the Church and society.

On Feb. 18, 1970, William Wakefield Baum was appointed the third bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. His ordination to the episcopate and installation as chief shepherd of the diocese took place at St. Agnes Cathedral, Springfield, on April 6, 1970.

The following year he was chosen by Pope Paul VI as a delegate to that year’s Synod of Bishops. Named Archbishop of Washington , D.C. in 1973, Bishop Baum was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1976, at which time he was the youngest of America’s cardinals.

The Times, 1970

Abandoned houses in the Bootheel
Abandoned houses in the Bootheel

In the wider arena of the nation, the late ‘60s was a time of political activism that overflowed into the ‘70s. During the decade preceding Bishop Baum’s episcopacy, between 1960 and 1970, Pres. Lyndon Johnson had proposed his Great Society program, the Watts riots monopolized the media and the country reeled under the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Kent State tragedy. Economically deprived families of Missouri, especially in the Bootheel counties, left their residences to find work in cities like Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit. New pastures were developing where once had stood forests. From mid-diocese westward, cattle and dairy operations predominated. The stockyards in Springfield invited its designation by some as a “cattle town.”

South of Springfield, four man-made lakes were becoming very commercialized, though families camped and relaxed on their shores. West of Springfield to the Kansas-Oklahoma border were dairy farms and ranches on rocky soil too hilly for row crops, but havens for pastures of fescue and other grasses. The Joplin mines were almost depleted, but still producing stone.

In the Cape Girardeau area, Catholics found support in its Catholic culture, but farther west, where the Catholic population tended to adapt to their Protestant brothers’ and sisters’ milieu, more young people were going to the secular colleges in the state. The Catholics living in southern Missouri were surrounded by a fundamentalist Bible Belt culture with strong anti-abortion sentiments.

The African-American population was predominant in the Bootheel area, decreasing as one traveled north to Cape Girardeau and west to Springfield. Poverty was also evident in the number of “poor whites” living in the hills as well as in the cities of Joplin, Springfield, and Cape Girardeau.

The Diocese 1970

St. Agnes Cathedral, Springfield 1970
St. Agnes Cathedral, Springfield, 1970 (left). Cathedral of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Cape Girardeau, 1970 (right)

As third bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Bishop Baum came into office in a diocese already well established, even though it was only 14 years old at his installation.


Assumption Abbey (Trappist) 1970, Ava
Assumption Abbey (Trappist) 1970, Ava

There was at least one Catholic church in each of the 39 counties of his jurisdiction. Of the 59 parishes of the diocese, 57 had resident pastors. Thirty-one mission churches were served by pastors of other parishes. Clergy and religious remained constant from Bishop Strecker’s time with 67 diocesan priests, 56 men religious representing 8 religious communities of men, and 268 women religious representing 23 religious communities of women.

Priestly Vocations

Transitional deacons meet with Bp. Baum in 1970: Paul McLoughlin, Mark Binder, and Michael McDevitt. All were ordained in 1971 and presently serve in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

Sacred Heart House of Studies was still functioning. The students attended daily classes at St. Agnes High School. The remainder of each day was occupied with spiritual exercises, recreation, and study. Graduates went to Conception Seminary, Conception, MO; Kenrick Seminary, St. Louis, MO; St. Meinrad Seminary, St. Meinrad, IN; the North American College in Rome or other out-of-state seminaries.

The Priests Senate

1970 Priests Senate Members
1970 Priests Senate Members

Originated under the bishop’s predecessor, the Priests Senate offered support to the priests of the diocese and worked to overcome the split-mentality proceeding from the fact that, having been trained at many different seminaries and widely distant from one another’s parishes, the diocesan priests didn’t know one another. It was also highly concerned with the adaptation of the liturgy in the diocese necessitated by the teachings of Vatican Council II.


Superintendent of Catholic Schools Fr. Mark Ernstmann assists Bp. William Baum in handing out diplomas for the 1970 Catholic high school graduations in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
Superintendent of Catholic Schools Fr. Mark Ernstmann assists Bishop William Baum in handing out diplomas for the 1970 Catholic high school graduations in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

Catholic formation and education of youth was performed in 27 parish elementary schools, two inter-parochial high schools, two private high schools and a private elementary school. The diocese had a diocesan school board and superintendent, but the education office was not centered in the chancery.

Care of the Sick

St. John’s Medical Center, Joplin
St. John’s Medical Center, Joplin

The strongest visible signs of the Church outside the parish plants were the six Catholic general hospitals expanding their space and services.

St. John’s Hospital, Springfield
St. John’s Hospital, Springfield


The Mirror was functioning as the diocesan newspaper, but was still being issued as part of Our Sunday Visitor. Offices were located outside the chancery.

Commissions and Societies

Ecumenical Center, Springfield, circa 1970
Ecumenical Center, Springfield, circa 1970

Special societies and commissions were run from offices around the diocese. They included–

• the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and other Pontifical Mission Aid Societies;

• the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Liturgy;

• the Diocesan Spiritual Director for Catholic Youth;

• the Bureau of Information;

• the Radio and Television Office;

• the St. Vincent de Paul Conferences.


Pastoral ministry and religious education were available on the secular college campuses: the Ecumenical Center at Southwest Missouri State College in Springfield; a Center at Drury College in Springfield; a Catholic Student Center at Southeast Missouri State College, Cape Girardeau; and an Ecumenical Campus Center at Missouri Southern State College, Joplin.

Although the Diocesan Council of Catholic Men was losing its vitality, the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women was fully functioning. The Legion of Mary was another vibrant group serving the local church.

James J. Owens, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish, Springfield, was named president of the Springfield Area Council of Churches, an ecumenical outreach organization.


Although many aspects of healthy diocesan life were in place, the bishop also faced a number of challenges.

• The absence of a chancery to house the various organizations of the diocese militated against a smooth flow of information and added expense to the diocesan budget.

• The ignorance and conservative stance that fed the anti-Catholic sentiment in the wider community was a major obstacle toward collaboration with members of other faiths and efforts toward evangelization.

• The wide expanse between the major cities of the east and west ends of the diocese continued to threaten its unity.

• Owing to the absence of any Catholic institutions of higher learning in the diocese, opportunities for solid religiously oriented intellectual and spiritual formation were lacking. This circumstance also impeded efforts to moderate anti-Catholic sentiment among the general public.

• A year after the bishop’s assuming leadership of the diocese, there were still no provincial houses in the diocese and the Oblate seminary in Carthage closed in 1970.

• The bishop’s only advisory board consisted of the Priests Senate. The voice of the laity had to be developed.

• Although the Cursillo Movement gained wide acceptance in the diocese, Cursillistas from the west attended meetings in Kansas City while those in the eastern regions frequented meetings in Memphis. Travel distances hampered the gathering of the laity in one place for liturgical celebrations as well as opportunities for education and formation.

The Bishop’s Initiatives

Margaret Hosch, OSF
Margaret Hosch, OSF
Fr. Philip Bucher
Fr. Philip Bucher

Bp. Baum acted almost at once to meet the challenges that faced him and the diocese. Among the first actions he took was a restructuring of the diocese. To overcome the geographical distances and encourage planning among parishes, he formed the diocese into nine regions. The model for this reorganization was the diocesan educational method developed by Fr. Philip Bucher, Dolores Tringle, OLVM, and Margaret Hosch, OSF. They grouped parishes to encourage parochial directors of religious education to come together more conveniently to share methods and materials. The effect was intercommunication and collaboration.

Dolores Tringle, OLVM
Dolores Tringle, OLVM

To turn attention to the care of the needy and economically impoverished, the bishop immediately initiated a secretariat for social concern with Fr. Wallace Ellinger as head. To encourage volunteer teachers, social workers, and the like, he also set up Catholic Services Association (CASA). Special attention was paid to migrant workers in the diocese in a statewide outreach organization–Missouri Association of Migrant Opportunity Services, Inc. (MAMOS). Robert Lee headed this organization for three years.

The first year of the bishop’s episcopacy also saw the separation of The Mirror from Our Sunday Visitor to become an independent diocesan publication.

Spiritual Character

Bp. Baum returns from the Synod
Bishop Baum returns from the Synod

The deeply spiritual character of Bishop Baum gained public recognition when he visited Fr. Philip Berrigan in the Federal Medical Center. Berrigan, a Josephite priest, had been the first priest to join the Civil Rights Movement Freedom Ride in 1962. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and joined by his Jesuit brother, Daniel and seven others, he broke into draft offices and military bases in Baltimore, drenching the draft records with blood. Associated with the Catonsville Nine and later, Plowshares 8, he was imprisoned several times. Without commenting on either side of the situation, Bishop Baum worked within a framework of a “Ministry of Reconciliation,” his episcopal motto.

Almost immediately upon his ordination to the episcopacy, Bishop Baum was appointed to participate in the General Assembly of the World Synod of Bishops in 1971 where he joined with bishops of affluent countries as well as prophetic voices from other parts of the world. The theme of the synod was social justice. The bishops denounced structural and institutional injustice, especially on the international level. They advocated international and ecumenical cooperation for development in all countries, introducing the concept of the “option for the poor.” They identified social reform as “constitutive” of all pastoral ministry. Opening the door to a new era in the church, they spoke of the need for everyone to realize that the principles of social justice are an essential part of the Gospel message.

Second Year Actions

Diocesan Pastoral Council Officers
Diocesan Pastoral Council Officers

One of the first events of 1972, the bishop’s second year in office, was the establishment of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC). It was a start toward a lay advisory board to the bishop beyond the Priests’ Senate and a move toward greater involvement of the laity in ecclesiastical affairs. The DPC was to make two recommendations–to move the offices of Social Concerns, Religious Education, and The Mirror to the fourth floor of the Landers Building, not only to cut costs, but also to improve in-house communication. They also recommended that goals be set for all programs, committees, and apostolates, to which the bishop readily agreed.

Ecumenical Thrust


A year before leaving the diocese to become archbishop of Washington, DC, Bishop Baum zeroed in on the major evangelizing orientation of his life–ecumenism. He inaugurated Key 73, a state and nationwide evangelizing effort with ecumenical benefits. The two Oblate chaplains at the Newman Club on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau began to offer religious studies courses for credit.

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Ecumenical Positions Held By Bishop William Baum

• First Executive Director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Washington, DC, 1964-1967

• Member of the Joint Working Group (representatives of the Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation) 1965-1966

• Permanent Observer-Consultant for the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity Consultor to the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, November 1975

• Appointment by Pope John Paul II for a five-year term as a member of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity

• Ecclesiastical Delegate for Matters Pertaining to Former Episcopal Priests

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Bishop Baum Leaves The Diocese

Bishop Baum was appointed Archbishop of Washington, DC, on March 5, 1973 and elevated to the cardinalate on May 24, 1976. He resigned as archbishop in 1980, when he became Prefect of the Congregation of Catholic Education for Seminaries and Institutes of Study in the Roman Curia in 1980. Ten years later, he was appointed Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary in the Roman Curia.

Bishop Baum served the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese for only three short years. However his impact was felt long after he left to make an even more significant contribution to the Catholic Church in America and in the Curia where his skills and talents were put to use for the good of the Church universal.

Bishop William Baum has been a priest for more than 50 years, a bishop for almost 35 years, and a cardinal for almost 30.

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Parishes Established During Bishop Baum’s Tenure

1972 — Roby/St. Vincent de Paul Mission Church

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