By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published October 31, 2019
ATLANTA—Song, dance and praise filled the Lyke House during the Dedication Mass to celebrate the building’s 20th anniversary and founder, Msgr. Edward B. Branch, on Sunday, Oct. 20.
Father Urey Mark, current director and chaplain of the Lyke House, was the principal celebrant, greeting more than 200 guests at the beginning of the celebration.
“May the Holy Spirit preserve Lyke House as a center for Catholic life and light to inspire young people on their call to discipleship,” said Father Mark.
The Lyke House serves students attending Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Georgia State University. It is a Newman Center, a Catholic ministry for non-Catholic universities.
In 2016, the Lyke House marked 25 years since then-Father Branch opened a Catholic Center on the Atlanta University campus. This year’s celebration marks 20 years since the dedication of the current building.
During Mass, Father Urey Mark presented Msgr. Branch with a lifetime achievement award for his work in ministry, received with a standing ovation from the community.
Msgr. Branch retired from active ministry in June 2015.
After a feasibility study concluded that a full-time priest and permanent facility was needed to support Catholic students in the Atlanta University Center, Archbishop Eugene Marino asked Father Branch, of the Archdiocese of Louisville, to come to Atlanta to fill the position and support the students.
When he arrived in 1990, Father Branch was greeted by enthusiastic students. With help and support of generous volunteers in the community, the Lyke House broke ground in 1997. Archbishop John Donoghue dedicated the building on Oct. 18, 1999.
The design of Lyke House reflects the African presence in the church. African art was given a Christian adaption, celebrated in various forms including windows, art and resources in the facility.
“The Lyke House was built on the shoulders of giants,” said Msgr. Branch as he described the contributions of Archbishop James P. Lyke, Archbishop Marino and Father Cyprian Davis.
Lay volunteer, Alan Pinado Sr., also played a pivotal role in securing land for Lyke House. He died Oct. 6.
The land where Lyke House sits used to be 12 people’s houses, and they were not interested in selling anything to Catholics, said Msgr. Branch.
“Alan and his wife were willing to constantly put up their house as collateral for every one of those properties,” he said.
“It takes giving everything to make the church grow,” said Msgr. Branch in tears. “We forget that somebody came before us and gave it all. Don’t be afraid to give it all,” he said.
Legacy of campus ministry
Before Msgr. Branch came to Atlanta, he served as a campus minister at Grambling State University in Louisiana and director of campus ministry at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His experience in Catholic youth and young adult ministry includes keynote addresses, facilitating catechetical sessions for World Youth Day (1996) and getting students involved in HIV prevention and AIDS awareness.
The purpose of a Newman center, like Lyke House, is formation for the next generation of Catholic Christians, said Msgr. Branch.
They have to learn liturgy, the “nuts and bolts” of the church “and to be church themselves,” he said.
Merrine McDonald has been involved with Lyke House since its early years when she attended Mass in the “little blue house” before the new building was built. She remembers supporting students with needs, giving them advice over the years and Msgr. Branch’s dedication to the students, making the experience feel more like family.
“The community that was built was very important,” said McDonald. “Students made friendships of a lifetime.”
Father Chester P. Smith, SVD, from Indianapolis, was the homilist at the Mass. He considers Msgr. Branch to be one of his spiritual directors for many years. You have to be confident in who God made you to be, and “that’s what Monsignor would tell us,” said Father Smith.
Father Smith and his twin brother, Father Charles, met Msgr. Branch when they were 14 years old at a clergy caucus gathering of priests, deacons and seminarians. Msgr. Branch gave them spiritual advice over the years and was supportive during their formation years for the priesthood.
“Father Branch taught us that people see you the way you see yourself,” said Father Smith. “If you see yourself as strong, and talented and valuable, that’s the way others will see you.”
Ashley Morris, associate director of the Office for Intercultural Ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, first met Msgr. Branch as a freshman student at Clark Atlanta University.
“He spoiled us,” said Morris, of his time as a student in Lyke House. “He exposed us and showed us things that challenged us consistently. It helped us to grow as scholars and faith filled individuals,” he said.
Morris would later work for eight years with Msgr. Branch as the assistant campus minister at Lyke House.
Reggie Steele, Msgr. Branch’s nephew, said his uncle “really embodies everything that a priest is.”
“He’s just an amazing spirit,” said Steele.