By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 12, 2009
Beneath towering pine trees and with a cold fall breeze blowing, college students, alumni and supporters from the Lyke House huddled in a horseshoe shape at the bronze grave marker of its namesake, Archbishop James P. Lyke.
The crowd recited the morning prayer of Liturgy of the Hours with its ancient prayers and Scripture readings on Saturday, Oct. 17, at the final resting place of a man most of the group never met but whose vision shaped the Catholic student center where they worship.
It was a time to pay respects, said students.
The pilgrimage to Arlington Memorial Park, Sandy Springs, was part of the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the Lyke House, the Catholic center that serves six historically black colleges and universities at the Atlanta University Center.
Around 9:45 a.m., the bus with about 20 women and men pulled away from the Lyke House for a half-hour drive to Arlington Memorial Park, where all but one of the former Atlanta archbishops are buried. Archbishop Eugene A. Marino is buried in Mississippi.
The group moved quickly up the hill toward the large marble crucifix. Archbishop Lyke’s marker was soon surrounded. Father Edward Branch, chaplain at Lyke House and a friend of the Franciscan archbishop, led the prayer service for the dead.
Candis Mayweather, who graduated from Spelman College three years ago and served as a ministry assistant, said the time spent at the center was as valuable for her as being in class on campus.
“For me, Lyke House was a place where I grew, a place of spiritual and moral development. I found that even though Spelman College prepared me academically, it can no way prepare my faith. Lyke House was a place to grow my faith and leadership. It is a place that I will always stay connected to.”
Father Branch described it as “a Bethany, a place that you come and rest.”
Catholics at the colleges for several years worshipped in a small converted dress shop. But with the backing of Archbishops Marino and Lyke, the center took shape on Beckwith Street.
The $2.1 million project put a church in the heart of the Atlanta University Center. Architects designed the two-story building to resemble one of the oldest Catholic churches in Africa, a chapel in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
The different rooms there are key to serving college-age Catholics, from a library to a kitchen.
“It creates a model of campus ministry that is not so obvious. It needed to feel like you could just hang out,” said Father Branch, who has shepherded the college students here since 1990.
And it also has the feel of the times when Archbishop Lyke would call Father Branch at all hours to invite students to his Buckhead home where the archbishop would cook and the students would study. The two priests were friends. Father Branch succeeded the future archbishop as Catholic chaplain at Grambling State University in Louisiana. The late archbishop’s hand-carved wooden crosier stands near the main entry of the center.
More than 80 former students and supporters reunited for the anniversary weekend. There was a choir concert, business networking event for alumni and a gala dinner. A Mass closed the weekend.
The center kicked off its $1 million capital campaign to seed an endowment. It would finish the center’s campus: construct a memorial tower modeled on the original in Ethiopia, install an African-American art mural and baptismal font. The center also hopes to install solar panels on its roof to conserve energy.
Merrine McDonald, who works at Spelman College, attended its dedication a dozen years ago and has been a leader since.
“I keep coming because of what I have learned from the students. They ask questions I never would have thought of. They learn how to practice it. They know it is not a passive kind of religion, but action,” she said.
Myles Harris traveled from White Plains, N.Y., for the weekend. The 2004 graduate of Morehouse College, who works in the telecommunications industry, said the Lyke House experience shaped him during school.
It was where 27-year-old Harris said he could go during difficulties to find support and then offer support to others when they had tough times.
“It not only shaped me back when I was in school, but still continues to shape me today as far as my involvement with the church. It has been something that has furthered my faith journey,” said Harris, as the bus traveled up Georgia 400. He also served as president of the center.
For Mayweather, who is 25, the Catholic center was where she took responsibility for her faith and its place in her life.
“I always tell people it is called Lyke House, but I called it Lyke Home because it became like home for me.”
The Catholic Center at Atlanta University Center
809 Beckwith St., SW Atlanta
Sunday: 10 a.m.
Wednesdays: 5:30 p.m.
Hours of Operation:
12 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Monday – Friday
This is the second in a series of articles on Catholic campus ministries.
Campus ministry is one of the ministries supported by the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.