Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, Major Penitentiary emeritus and Archbishop emeritus of Washington was born on November 21, 1926 in Dallas, USA. At an early age he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he received his primary education at St. Peter’s parochial school.
In 1939, at age 13, he entered St. John’s Minor Seminary of Kansas City. He did his philosophical and theology studies at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis. At the end of his priestly formation he was ordained a priest on May 12, 1951. In the following years, he served as curate at the Parish of St. Aloysius in Kansas City and taught theology and Church history at the College of St. Theresa.
In 1956 he was sent by his bishop to Rome, where he received a doctorate in theology from the "Angelicum" University in 1958. He returned to the United States and was named pastor of Sugar Creek near Kansas City, and served as notary of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, secretary of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission and vice-chancellor of the curia. Due to his particular interest in the cause of Christian unity, he was chosen to speak as an expert (peritus) during the Second Vatican Council. He was also one of the Catholic delegates at several sessions of the Geneva- based World Council of Churches. He was the executive secretary of the Committee for Ecumenical Affairs of the NCCB from 1964 to 1967. During the same period, he served as parish priest of St. James and chancellor of the diocesan curia of Kansas City.
On February 18, 1970, Paul VI nominated him bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau; he was consecrated bishop on April 6, 1970. On March 5, 1973 he was named Archbishop of Washington. During the same time he was also the president of the Commission for Ecumenical Affairs of the NCCB.
He was nominated perfect of the Congregation for Catholic Education by John Paul II on January 15, 1980 (until April 1990). Archbishop emeritus of Washington, March 18, 1980.
He served as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary from April 6, 1990 until November 22, 2001.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by Paul VI in the consistory of May 24, 1976, of the Title of S. Croce in Via Flaminia (Holy Cross in Via Flaminia).