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Gallery honoring late Black archbishop to be dedicated this morning in Atlanta

A new Black Catholic gallery in Atlanta is being dedicated today, highlighting Black Catholic history, art, and a late archbishop with a habit of making history.

(Lyke House Facebook)

The Archbishop James Patterson Lyke Memorial Gallery at the Atlanta University Consortium’s Newman Center will be dedicated today with a Mass in honor of Black Catholic History Month.

Better known as the Lyke House, the facility serves the area’s four HBCUs, including Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

The gallery dedication was announced on social media late last month.

The memorial gallery includes art from the Afrocentric and US Black Catholic oeuvres, as well as artifacts from the life and ministry of the late Archbishop James Lyke, OFM of Atlanta—the famed Black theologian and liturgist who in 1991 became just the second African-American archbishop in history.

Among the gallery’s historical items are Lyke’s own zucchetto, doctoral diploma, Afrocentric mitre and crozier, and a photo from his historic meeting with Pope St John Paul II.

They accent an already Afrocentric facility, modeled after Ethiopia's historic Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela and established with funding from the archdiocese in the late 1990s.

Lyke died of cancer in 1992, just 18 months after his installation, and the new campus ministry building was named in his honor.

“The significance of this memorial gallery in our time to honor [Lyke] is special and symbolic because it brings together the beauty of faith, culture, history, and Catholicism,” said Fr Urey Mark, the Lyke House chaplain, in a video showcase.

“This gallery will provide a living story for Catholics in this intellectual environment of higher education… It highlights pivotal moments in Black Catholic history and African-American Catholics’ contributions to US Catholicism and the universal Church.”

Mark also notes that he hopes the gallery will inspire young Black Catholics to vocations, a major point of emphasis in the community nationally.

(All three African-American archbishops in history served in Atlanta, including Cardinal Wilton Gregory—the only one in the 30 years since Lyke’s death.)

The Lyke Foundation, which also honors the late prelate’s legacy, notes that Lyke, born in 1939, was ordained in 1966 before requesting an assignment in Memphis following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He was the first Black Catholic priest in the state of Tennessee.

The bio details that he later served at an HBCU’s Newman Center himself, at Grambling University in Louisiana, before his elevation to the episcopacy in 1979.

His nephew Andrew Lyke, who sits on the foundation board, is scheduled to speak at today’s event on his uncle’s multifaceted ministry and story, which includes coordinating the committee which produced the “Lead Me, Guide Me” Black Catholic hymnal released in 1987.

Today’s Mass at the Lyke House will begin at 10:30am EST.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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