A Black Catholic Tradition of Campus Ministry

Msgr. Branch (center) poses for a picture with several Lyke House alumni following Sunday's Dedication Mass (October 19, 2014).

Msgr. Branch (center) poses for a picture with several Lyke House alumni and supporters following Sunday’s Dedication Mass. (October 19, 2014).

When these words first tripped off my tongue about 14 years ago, Deacon and Mrs. Fred Sambrone, Merrine McDonald and I didn’t quite know what we meant, at least not exactly. We knew that this enterprise that had begun about six years before would not be ordinary in such an extraordinary place as the Atlanta University Center. It was one thing to think of creating an institution in 1990; it was quite another to create an institution that would be old wine in new wine skins. As we celebrate our 15th year in this facility commissioned by Archbishop Eugene Marino, the nation’s first African American Archbishop, and confirm by it’s namesake Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM,  himself a campus minister, it is only fitting to draw something of a picture of the reality of the community that has evolved into what both men would have been proud of.

Lyke House is outstanding if for no other reason than in its physical structure it testifies that someone African American built it with our African roots reflected in Lalibela, Ethiopia in mind. So few of our churches and facilities in America were built by us for us to recall that our Christianity is truly of African origin from the first century and not a product of colonial European expansionism. It is outstanding in its evolution to be first and foremost, a Bethany, a place where students can not only learn and do things Catholic but also create and discover what that means for them. We have been able to capitalize on the giftedness and maturity of AUC students from each of the six institutions to share the faith but become the Faith’s contemporary expression.

The mission of Lyke House has been articulated for some time:

The mission of Lyke House: The Catholic Center at AUC is to establish Spiritual, Academic, and Faith development for the Atlanta University Center family, with a spirit of Christian love and service in the Black Catholic tradition of campus ministry.

We didn’t know what the Black Catholic tradition of campus ministry meant since in some ways we were creating it. Now after 15 years and numerous alumni and friends its profile has emerged. Lyke House is a tent, a family tent in which heritage can be known and shared; service is organized, and people grow from having church to being Church.

As I looked about the gathering of almost 100 this past Dedication Day, it was clear that we had come of age. The main celebrant was an alumnus confirmed at Lyke House; the Merrine McDonald award was presented to an alumni couple, and two alumni were the honorary chairpersons of the weekend. Students were lectors, servers, and hospitality ministers; the hand behind the scene was a lay campus minister and alumnus. There were more alumni present than ever. One came with a large bequest and another with a proposal for setting up a self funded scholarship to bring others to the AUC for school and for Lyke House. All I had to do was watch and pray.

Looking at our past, we have made a creative presence and a fruit bearing future. Seems to me the profile of a Black Catholic tradition is now clear.

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