By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 20, 2007
They can be called sons of Lyke House.
Three 20-something men in the past two years who worshipped at the Catholic center that serves the historically black institutions at Atlanta University Center have pursued religious life or priestly ministry.
“I think there is something affirming about Lyke House,” said Desmond Drummer, who is 24 and is starting his pastoral year with the archdiocesan seminary program. “I don’t think our vocations were birthed at Lyke House, but it was affirmed,” he said.
The other men are Dominican Brother John Phillips and Christopher Rhodes, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky.
Vocations to the priesthood have slumped across the country and the numbers of men joining the priesthood from the black community is smaller still. Black people make up about 3 percent of Catholic faithful in the United States, some 2.5 million. In Atlanta, a recent survey done by the Office for Black Catholic Ministry counted 22,289 black Catholics. There are four African-American priests serving in the archdiocese, not including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, helped by about a dozen African-American permanent deacons.
Lyke House emphasizes Christianity’s African roots. Mass in its 230-seat chapel starts with an African drum call. Its cruciform shape models one of the oldest Catholic churches in Africa, a rock-hewn chapel in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
“Students who are paying attention will surely leave that place changed, secure in faith and identity and prepared to return to a broader context that often and aggressively assaults both Catholicism and Blackness,” said Drummer in an e-mail.
The worship at Lyke House shows that Catholicism does not have a “unilateral cultural form,” he said. “The Gospel is transmitted through culture, and this happens in a very real way at Lyke House,” he said.
Rhodes said Lyke House shows the universal features of the Catholic Church. As the only black seminarian at St. Meinrad Seminary, Rhodes at times shares a different point of view of the church from his fellow seminarians with insights gained from Lyke House. “They may have their perspective, but I have another perspective to add to theirs,” he said.
Lyke House serves Catholics as a place to worship, but it also plays a wider role in the university, interacting with the academic world and with the other faiths represented on campus. It is named for Atlanta’s late Archbishop James P. Lyke, a Franciscan, and serves as the center of Catholic campus ministry for the AUC, which is made up of six institutions: Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark-Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, Morehouse School of Medicine and the Interdenominational Theological Center. Catholics make up about 5 percent of the 10,000-member student body.
The Lyke House empowers students to do ministry, said the long-time chaplain, Father Edward Branch, who has been instrumental in the growth of Lyke House.
“They understand if they don’t do it, it doesn’t happen. They are experiencing (ministry) while they are doing it,” he said.
The three former students would have been exposed to all parts of the church, he said. They saw monastic life, met with theologians at the Black Catholic Theology Symposium, and served the church, Father Branch said.
“There are all kinds of ministries that are open to them,” he said.
Brother John started his first year as a Dominican. The Morehouse alumnus is living in the novitiate of the religious order in Irving, Texas, for at least a year.
Rhodes, also a graduate of Morehouse College, converted to Catholicism at Lyke House and is now a seminarian. He and Brother John were college roommates before he graduated in 2002.
“I felt right at home because of the culture and because of the rich faith tradition,” said Rhodes about Lyke House.
He grew up in Dallas, worshipping in a charismatic Protestant expression. As a young man, his minister called him out of the congregation and announced Rhodes would lead God’s people one day. At Morehouse he worshipped at King Chapel, the spiritual center at the college, which is rooted in the Baptist church.
He first found Lyke House as a place to study, but was eventually drawn into its spiritual life. After exploring the faith for two years, Rhodes joined the Catholic Church in 2000. At Lyke House, he participated in the choir, on the liturgy committee, as a minister assistant.
He is studying to be a priest for the Louisville Archdiocese. He attends St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. Rhodes spent four years in the U.S. Army as an officer after college and also hopes to become a military chaplain.
He is a strong advocate for campus ministry. Rhodes, 29, said students are forming their own values, many for the first time after leaving home. Campus ministry inserts the idea of lifelong formation within the church, he said.
Drummer has two more classes to finish his economics degree from Morehouse. He works at the Office for Black Catholic Ministry in the Catholic Center as part of his pastoral experience before heading to seminary studies.
Drummer wasn’t Catholic when he started college, but he was convinced the church was his spiritual home. He heard about Lyke House as a freshman, but it wasn’t until his second year that he visited. He is a self-described “Army brat,” who calls San Antonio, Texas, home.
“What kept me at Lyke House was the fact that I was spiritually, intellectually, and culturally fed. The faith of our church was literally brought directly to me, and I so very much appreciated the vision and sacrifices that it took to maintain that house of ministry. To date, my time at Lyke House is the single most important factor of my collegiate life and personal growth,” he said in an e-mail.