Donor Profile: Wilma Baumgartner

“I’m just a humble person who loves God and I want to live my life for Him.”

Wilma Baumgartner always has a smile on her face. The 100-year-old woman from Chicago firmly believes in the power of happiness.

“What is life without humor?” she asks. “I think you should laugh out loud every day. It’s very healthy for you!”

On April 25, Wilma had much to smile about when she was honored as an Honorary Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. The title is granted by the Superior General of the Missionary Oblates and was given to Wilma for her more than 20 years as a generous benefactor of the Oblates in the United States and around the world.

Wilma was born in 1922 in Austria and grew up on a family farm. She came to the United States in 1948 as a war bride, marrying Joseph Baumgartner. They settled in Chicago and raised two daughters.

Wilma’s first job was as a cashier in the cafeteria of her daughter’s high school. She was also an active member of her parish and volunteered at a neighborhood nursing home and with the Little Sisters of the Poor who had a residence for the elderly. In 1998, Joseph passed away and Wilma continue to remain actively volunteering in the community.

Over time, Wilma was blessed with some wealth and began sharing her blessings with several organizations, including the Missionary Oblates. Wilma knew about the good works of the Oblates because she was a close friend to the late Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago.

“God blessed me, and I decided to pass it on to those in need,” said Wilma.

Over the past 20 years, Wilma has made sizeable gifts to support a variety of Oblate ministries. Much of her focus has been on the training of the next generation of Oblates. She has funded the construction of a seminary residence in San Antonio, Texas, and the renovation of the Oblate Novitiate in Godfrey, Illinois. She has also made substantial gifts to support the education and formation of seminarians who come from around the world to study and discern their calling in the United States.

In addition to helping Oblate seminarians, Wilma has also made gifts in support of the care of elder and infirmed Oblates; the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows: and foreign missions in Zambia, Bangladesh, and Tijuana, Mexico. In 2016, Wilma and her daughter Betty came to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows for an event called “Wilmapalooza.” She had supported the Shrine’s renovation capital campaign and came to see how work was progressing.

While at the Shrine, Wilma received a personal tour from Fr. Clarence Zachman, OMI. With both being in their 90s, they really bonded. Wilma also enjoyed a visit with Fr. Elmar Mauer, OMI, who immigrated to the United States from Germany as a teenager. Wilma had a wonderful visit with Fr. Elmar and enjoyed a lively conversation in German with him.

“Wilma is very concerned about the future of the Church and has always been devoted to helping the Oblate priests, brothers, and seminarians in whatever way she can,” said Jamie Green, an Oblate Charitable Gift Advisor who has worked with Wilma to ensure that her wishes are being fulfilled. “If someone is in need, Wilma wants to help. She has never said ‘no’ to a request that the Oblates have made to her.”

Wilma said she supports the Oblates simply because she loves them. “I love them dearly because they help the poor and needy — and that is very important!”

Wilma is proud to be part of an Oblate legacy of helping the poor that dates back more than 200 years. Through her generosity, she is helping that legacy continue for generations to come.

Wilma truly brings to life the words of the Oblate Founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, who wrote in his diary: “I do not understand how anyone can love God if they do not know how to love human beings.”