By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published November 17, 2016
ATLANTA—The Catholic Center known as Lyke House is a “church home for students” and a “church home for those who pursue justice,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
As the center held its 25th anniversary celebration, the ministry’s chaplain is strengthening formation of young Catholics at the Atlanta University Center and expanding to embrace students from Georgia State University.
“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Lyke House, it was a moment to give great joy and thanksgiving to God and to all those who have laid the foundation here,” said Father Urey Mark, who took on the leadership of the campus ministry in mid-2015.
He succeeded the founding chaplain, Msgr. Edward Branch.
In a Mass celebrated Oct. 16 by Archbishop Gregory, students from the various campuses were joined by faculty members and parents and by founders who helped piece together the land in the heart of the campus where the unique building was established.
A group of students who are music majors at Spelman or Morehouse College are assisted with stipends and become Bowman Scholars, offering their gifts in music to build up the beauty of Mass at Lyke House while learning how to serve the church in liturgical ministry. Directed by Dr. Kevin Johnson, conductor of the Spelman College Glee Club, they led the singing during the anniversary Mass.
Other students helped usher, greeted people and took part in the program.
“My job is simple: just to tap into their gifts,” Father Mark said.
Archbishop Gregory admitted he had been “a little nervous” when Msgr. Branch retired because “he cast such a long shadow over here at Lyke House.”
“But I think I found a worthy replacement,” the archbishop said with a warm smile, as people applauded.
Two strong outreach programs
A priest of the Society of the Divine Word, Father Mark is a native of Liberia, and has previously been a pastor in St. Louis and in Iowa.
“My number one priority from the day I came here is the spirituality and the spiritual formation and the spiritual development of people wherever I serve, whatever culture, whatever location, whatever diocese,” he said.
“I believe with a very deep spirituality a person is able to become a very good disciple and a very good steward.”
The Lyke House already had established “two strong outreach programs” in the Bowman Scholars and in the student ministry assistant program, Father Mark said.
Both are growing, as the number of student ministry assistants has increased from three to seven and the Bowman Scholars from five to seven. A spring golf tournament initiated this year netted over $13,500 to benefit the scholarships/stipends given to student ministry assistants and will be held again in 2017.
“The program was designed to train and prepare students for peer evangelization but also for ministry in the Catholic Church,” he said.
“At the university level they are taking ownership of their faith. … When they leave here, they can go straight to the parish and be active parishioners.”
Learning how to lector, usher and serve as Eucharistic ministers, the student ministry assistants also take turns staffing the center from 5 to 9 p.m., keeping it open so students can study there. Mass is celebrated Tuesdays through Thursdays at 6 p.m. On Thursday nights, it is followed by a time of faith formation and an agape meal, like pizza or Chick-fil-A. Students have the opportunity to lead these reflections and grow in sharing their faith with their peers.
Father Mark resides at Lyke House and travels to Georgia State University where he offers 12:15 p.m. Mass Tuesdays through Thursdays and faith formation on Wednesday evenings along with the chance to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. He is on a team at GSU with Rudy Schlosser, who has been a part of campus ministry there for over 10 years.
“They are all collegians”
Asked by the archbishop to minister to students on both campuses, the priest said he began by spending time over the summer with Georgia State students when the Atlanta University Center is closed. Working with the needs of the largely commuter student body and showing the Lyke House advisory council “the positive things that can come from this collaborative ministry with our young students” was his pastoral approach, Father Mark said.
“When we had an opening Mass for the school year at Lyke House, the following Sunday we invited Georgia State students to come and we had a barbeque afterward,” he said.
“The students from GSU bring so much diversity. You have Anglo Americans, some students from Africa, Indian students. … It was so enriching. The liturgy was so rich,” he said.
“Our students love their GSU friends. … It is just amazing what is happening, and I thank God because of what is happening,” he said.
“They are all very happy that it is now serving not just the AUC but GSU because they are all collegians. They love their faith. They love each other. And they appreciate the diversity.”
Schlosser and about 20 GSU students came to the 25th anniversary Lyke House Mass. He said he carpools 10 to 12 students there each Sunday and others come on their own. “The issue is transportation,” Schlosser said, expressing a wish for a van to bring more to the Mass.
When Father Mark suggested that Lyke House be used by both Georgia State and AUC students, “I said, that’s great,” Schlosser said. The worship space at Lyke House can hold 125 people while the site at GSU can only serve about 25, he said. “This is our parish on Sundays.”
Collaborative events have been held and Johnson, who is director of liturgy and worship at Lyke House, has visited the Georgia State campus as well.
Schlosser estimates that about 10,000 students now live on the Georgia State campus and that 5 percent, or about 500 of them, are Catholic.
Father Mark said that he will be working this year to develop a greater understanding of the Catholic student presence at each of the AUC institutions of Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University. He has written an introduction of himself and Lyke House to the presidents of the institutions and points out that it is “a safe haven for all the students,” a place to grab a snack, pray, get spiritual direction or join in worship.
He hopes to create a Catholic Student Association in each of the colleges that can be a presence at orientation for newcomers.
He is joyful over the beauty of the Mass celebrated at Lyke House.
“Most of our liturgy is flawless,” Father Mark said. “It pleases me as a priest whenever you can have a very good liturgy with our young people.”
At the same time, at Lyke House a reflection on Thursdays is based on evening prayer, which provides quiet time, a theme, and an invitation to share that is designed to be a faith occasion for those who may not be Catholic and those searching, as well as Catholics.
At the anniversary Mass, marking 25 years since then-Father Branch opened a Catholic Center on the Atlanta University Center campus, Archbishop Gregory spoke of the need to persevere in the pursuit of justice like the widow who wouldn’t stop pressuring the unjust judge.
“The pursuit of justice is a long road, but ultimately with faith we will achieve victory,” he said. “Pursue justice and never give up hope.”
Honors were given to people who have dedicated themselves to Lyke House, including Johnson, Alan Pinado, who negotiated the acquisitions of land parcels for the Lyke House, and his wife, Patricia, and the past and new chairmen of the advisory council, respectively, Marion and Paulette Lewis and Juan and Jean Johnson.
Archbishop Gregory is very supportive of the ministry, Father Mark said. Others are welcome to help if they’d like to support the program in some way, from donating snacks to other kinds of assistance.
“Campus ministry is an investment,” he said. “It comes back to the church. It comes back to the community. It comes back to the world.”
To learn more about Lyke House or the Georgia State University Catholic campus ministry, visit lykehouse.org or call 404-755-2646. Lyke House is located at 809 Beckwith St., SW, Atlanta, GA 30314.