By SHEILA OJENDYK
GREENVILLE — At the time of his ordination, Msgr. Charles J. Baum was told “You are a priest forever,” and he took those words to heart. Msgr. Baum, who died at age 92 on Dec. 19, had been a priest for 66 years. Nearly 50 of those years were associated with St. Mary’s.
Msgr. Baum’s funeral — meticulously planned some 25 years earlier — was held at St. Mary’s on Dec. 21. Adhering to his wishes for readings and songs was no problem, but this beloved priest had outlived most of the priests he had selected as celebrants or homilists.
There was no shortage of celebrants, however. Bishop Robert J. Baker came from Charleston to celebrate the liturgy. Twenty-nine other priests, most wearing matching white vestments, concelebrated.
The Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard for their brother Knight and former chaplain.
Msgr. Baum’s was not a sad funeral but rather a joyful celebration of a life well lived. He was laid out in his white vestments, the color of purity, joy, and Christ’s triumph over death.
Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City, was the homilist. Msgr. Duffy spoke of what he and Msgr. Baum had in common. Both were from Charleston, and both had attended St. Charles College in Baltimore, albeit in different years. Msgr. Duffy had served as a seminarian under Msgr. Baum at St. Mary’s. He recalled that one of his duties at the time was knocking on doors to locate Catholics.
Msgr. Duffy spoke of Msgr. Baum’s zest for life. “What a respect he had for life — making it possible for him to enjoy his life to the fullest.” He spoke of Msgr. Baum’s generosity with his time and his willingness to go where he was needed. He loved meeting people. Occasionally, people who didn’t know him assumed he was a bishop because of his dignified demeanor and the red trimmings of a monsignor that he wore so proudly.
According to his obituary in The Greenville News, Msgr. Baum had no family left, yet Msgr. Duffy emphasized, “Look at the family who’s left.” Many people all over the diocese knew him. As a pastor, he baptized countless babies and presided at the nuptials of countless couples. After his retirement in 1973, the children of many couples he had led into wedded bliss sought him out to perform their own weddings.
At the final commendation and farewell, Bishop Baker thanked all who loved Msgr. Baum for coming to his funeral. There were clergy from other faiths present, who Bishop Baker said “represent his outreach to those of other faiths.”
Bishop Baker led the rite of committal at Msgr. Baum’s final resting place in front of his beloved St. Mary’s. Each priest sprinkled the casket with holy water. The day was bitterly cold, yet none of the priests who chanted “Salve Regina” in unison seemed to notice it.