When Father Thomas A. Baima, 69, died April 20, friends and colleagues recalled his exceptional intellect and generous heart. Father Baima was vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago and provost of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein University. He was well-known in the ecumenical and interreligious communities in the archdiocese and across the country. “Father Baima’s lifelong mission of bringing people of faith together in dialogue and mutual respect is a model of how we should carry forward with building, as Pope Francis has asked, ‘an effective recognition of the dignity of every person, and a trusting openness to God the Father of all,’” said Cardinal Cupich. “I have lost a friend and brother and pledge to continue his work.” Born in Chicago, he attended Notre Dame High School in Niles, Benedictine University in Lisle, Butler University in Indianapolis and the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. He received his doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome in 2000. After being ordained in 1980, he served as associate pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside Parish, Arlington Heights, and St. Damian Parish, Oak Forest. From 1983 to 2000, he worked in the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, including serving as its director for many years. Then he was a professor at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, where he taught systematic theology with a focus on interreligious dialogue. In 2011, he became vice rector of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, and he became provost in 2020. “Father Baima devoted more than 20 years of his priesthood to the mission of forming future priests and lay ministry leaders at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary,” said Father John Kartje, rector/president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. “What I hope people appreciate is that his piercing intellect was matched by a deeply pastoral heart. His personal care for his students and colleagues was clearly evident. His passion for interfaith dialogue brought a critical dimension to seminary education as our future priests prepare to face an increasingly diverse world.” Kartje said since he became rector in 2015, Father Baima was “a trusted partner whose insights and perspectives I always respected.” Father Baima became vicar of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Office in 2012, while continuing to serve at Mundelein. “Father Tom was a visionary leader,” read a statement from his colleagues of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. “He saw issues and opportunities well beyond the immediate topics and tasks at hand. His strong collaborative nature brought theory and practice together in service to the Gospel, the heart of the Christian faith.” Daniel Olsen, director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said he will remember Father Baima’s gift for making people feel understood. “Father Baima was one of those rare people who combined an incredible intellect with a kind and collaborative nature,” Olsen said. “His pastoral sensitivity prioritized people and relationships and made you feel like you were an essential contributor to the work you were doing. ... I cannot count the number of times I saw him elicit consensus from a group when it seemed evident that we were staring at an impasse.” “He was very significant in interreligious dialogue,” said Anthony Cirelli, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. “He was a long-time member of the Catholic-Muslim dialogue and before that, he was a central leader for the Midwest Catholic-Muslim dialogue.” He became even more involved when Cardinal Cupich was named the Catholic co-chair of the national Catholic-Muslim dialogue in 2016, Cirelli said. Irshad Khan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said members of his organization are praying for Father Baima, whom they counted as a great friend. “He was a great friend and confidant, a real friend for the Muslim community who will be deeply missed,” said Khan, president of Islamic Foundation North. “He was so involved and engaged in the discussion with us. He always stood shoulder to shoulder with us.” Emily Soloff, national associate director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for the American Jewish Committee, also recalled Father Baima’s support after antisemitic incidents happened or when antisemitic tropes circulated. “Father Tom was very instrumental in combating antisemitism. He didn’t wait to be asked,” Soloff said. “He would always be on the phone right away, asking what we needed. He knew us so well that he knew when we would feel under siege.” Father Baima had been a guest at Soloff’s home for Shabbat dinner, she said, and she recalled how gracefully he helped people of other faiths understand what to do when they attended Catholic liturgies and showed respect for everyone present. Father Baima was a trustee emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and former president of the Illinois Conference of Churches, the O’Hare Interfaith Chapel Corporation and the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. “Father Tom Baima served as president of our Council and made tremendous contributions for decades,” said Barbara Abrajano, current President of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. “Tom was profoundly committed to ecumenical and interreligious work. He saw dialogue and collaboration as both vital and necessary among people of faith. His example has left an indelible mark on our council and our city.” Rev. Asayo Horibe, president of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest and Buddhist Catholic Dialogue member, said she knew Father Baima for years. “He was always there to be sure to include everyone at the table when interreligious issues were the topics,” Horibe said. “Father Tom was always conscious of protocol and traditions of all faiths so everyone is honored. … His guidance was invaluable when the ethnic Buddhist and Catholic representatives were invited to Rome by the pope. We spent a week together to share our traditions and thoughts on how to solve the social issues in the United States.” The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s International Encounter of Buddhists and Catholics took place in 2015. For more, see the archdiocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs website, eia.archchicago.org/about-us/very-rev-thomas-a-baima.