Photo courtesy of USMC Archives

Gregory Baum a Link to Vatican II

This article was authored and submitted by the University of St. Michael’s College Faculty of Theology


By Catherine Mulroney

Internationally noted theologian Gregory Baum, one of Canada’s last links to the Second Vatican Council and a former University of St. Michael’s College, Faculty of Theology professor, has died in Montreal at the age of 94.

“Gregory Baum was a major theologian, an interpreter of Catholic Social Teaching and papal documents, and a key communicator of the change of Vatican II, “explains Dr. Lee Cormie, a former Faculty colleague of Baum’s and a friend for 50 years.

Born in Berlin, Baum arrived in Canada in 1940, a refugee who then spent time in an internment camp in Quebec. He began teaching at the Faculty of Theology at St. Mike’s in 1960 but headed to Rome to serve as a peritus, or theological advisor, in the secretariat for Christian Unity at the Second Vatican Council,  which ran from 1962-1965.  During that time, Baum, the child of a Jewish mother and a Protestant father who entered the Catholic Church as a young adult, contributed to the first draft of the ground breaking document entitled Nostre aetate, or The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.  He also was involved in the sessions that resulted in the documents Unitatis redintegratio (On Ecumenism) and Dignitatis humanae (On Religious Liberty), topics that were to fascinate him throughout his lengthy academic and publishing life.

“Because he was an advisor to Vatican II he had an inside track on how much was changing; he was a leading light on what had happened at the Council and what it meant for the Church,”  notes Cormie, who team-taught a course with Baum at the Faculty on theology and the social science.

“He was a very big presence on campus,” engaged in countless lectures, conversations and teaching, Cormie recalls, adding that in the early 1970s,  Baum began to teach graduate courses in sociology and religious studies at the University of Toronto as well. It was at this time that Baum began to immerse himself in social justice issues, inspired by Catholic Social Teaching.

After moving to Montreal in 1986 to begin teaching at McGill University, Baum also became in important interpreter for those outside of Quebec regarding what was happening in the Church in Quebec in light of the Quiet Revolution, Cormie notes.

“He was also an unbelievably friendly and warm person, someone who carried on an ongoing conversation with an incredible number of friends,“ Cormie recalls.

Noting that Baum labelled himself a “conversationalist”, Cormie adds that the label “speaks to the renewal that came with Vatican II, making us a communication of people in conversation with each other.”

A prolific writer, Baum published books on topics ranging from the Church in Quebec and Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to critical theology and the signs of the times. He was also the founding editor of The Ecumenist, a Canadian periodical dedicated to theology, society and culture.

In 1990, when he was made an officer of the Order of Canada, his citation described him as “a guide and inspiration to generations of students of many different faiths and backgrounds.”