Forming the Church of Today and Tomorrow
The Story of Lyke House Campus Ministry
By: Deacon Keith Strohm
At a time of decline in Mass attendance among young adults, the goals of Catholic campus ministry might seem limited to simply keeping students Catholic. But the ministry team at Lyke House in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is still holding on to a larger vision. As Fr. Urey Mark, chaplain of this unique campus ministry, puts it, Lyke House “forms young people to become missionary disciples and share their faith.”
Now, that’s a big goal!
A Ministry to African-American Catholics. It began with a request in 1950 from Catholic students at Morehouse College, a historically Black school, for a place to celebrate Mass. The Newman Center ministry in the heart of downtown Atlanta was happy to oblige. But they didn’t stop there. They soon expanded to serve the entire Atlanta University Center (AUC), which is the largest and oldest consortium of historically Black colleges in the United States. Made up of Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Morehouse School of Medicine, the AUC has educated African-American students who have become leaders at the local and national level. Distinguished graduates include the noted playwright Pearl Cleage and civil rights activists like Julian Bond and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the Newman Center’s ministry to African American students continued to grow, money was secured to buy and renovate a building that would function as a center for Catholic students of the AUC. Named after the late Archbishop James Patterson Lyke, who advocated for this initiative, Lyke House Catholic Center was created in 2000 to nurture the spiritual lives and missionary activity of AUC students.
Although originally formed as a ministry focused on African-American students of the AUC, Lyke House has recently expanded its efforts. In the summer of 2015, Fr. Urey, a native of Liberia, was asked to become chaplain of Lyke House. At that time, the Archdiocese of Atlanta decided that Lyke House should also take responsibility for campus ministry at the predominantly Black Georgia State University. So Fr. Urey began to collaborate with Rudy Schlosser, the campus minister at GSU, to integrate the pastoral care of the second largest university in Georgia with Lyke House’s existing ministries.
Over the past seven years, Fr. Urey and Rudy have seen a broad sense of “catholicity,” or universality, emerge in Lyke House’s ministry. Students from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Latin and Central America, Asia, and Africa have come to serve and worship the Lord together. They not only learn to appreciate the unique cultural and Catholic traditions from different parts of the world, but they also come to experience a deeper love for each other in Christ.
Forming Disciples for Mission. Lyke House offers daily Mass at both the Catholic Center and at Georgia State University. But on Sundays, GSU students come to Lyke House. After Mass there is often a meal and time for fellowship, in addition to regular days of reflection and liturgical training.
The ministry of Lyke House spans well beyond Sundays, however. Wednesdays and Thursdays are especially busy with faith formation and opportunities for spiritual growth. Specific events include an ongoing study of the Creed, practical teaching on living as a disciple of Jesus, reflections on the moral life, and presentations on Catholic social teaching. All of these are popular among the students, but the true “secret sauce” to the ministry of Lyke House lies in two pioneering programs: the Bowman Scholar Program and the Student Ministry Assistant Program.
The Bowmam Scholar Program is named after Sr. Thea Bowman, a charismatic and influential Black nun who died in 1990. The program exists to form and train musicians and artists to serve Catholic parishes—especially predominantly Black congregations—across the nation and the world. These scholars, often music majors, also help develop the music program at Lyke House. The Bowman Scholar Program is open to non-Catholic and non-baptized individuals as well as committed Catholics. Fr. Urey sees this program as an opportunity for musicians and artists to encounter the beauty and power of the gospel message in a Catholic context.
Members of the Student Ministry Assistant Program form the core group of peer ministers for Lyke House. Their formation includes liturgical training as well as training in evangelization and reaching out to both Catholic and non-Catholic students. These ministry assistants contribute to the spiritual life, worship, and outreach of Lyke House, and they become intentional missionaries whose field is the universities served by the campus ministry. But beyond campus ministry and leadership in Lyke House itself, ministry assistants graduate with a readiness—and a desire—to continue to serve the Church wherever God leads them. “Our ministry assistants are more than the Church’s future,” says Fr. Urey. “They are its present as well.”
My Second Home. For Betoyah Dorzema, a junior at Georgia State University, meeting Fr. Urey and the Lyke House community has led to a deep connection with Jesus and his Church. “It was my freshman year at Georgia State, and I decided to walk into Student Center West looking for organizations that I might want to join. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed the chapel there. Curious, I slipped in to check it out while Mass was being celebrated. I remember that day so clearly because Fr. Urey caught me nosing around. He welcomed me with open arms that afternoon and asked me to sit in as they finished up daily Mass.
“After Mass, Fr. Urey introduced himself and showed me around. That’s also when he told me about Lyke House. He then invited me to come to the house on Sunday for Mass. At first, I was very hesitant. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue my Catholic faith in college. I grew up not seeing many people who looked like me in church. I was also aware of the many wrong things that were going on in the Church and the way some leaders were trying to cover up their sins. It made me ashamed of being Catholic.
“Later that week, Fr. Urey reached out and asked me if I needed a ride. I thought to myself, ‘This priest must actually care. He’s so busy, but he made the time to follow up with me.’ At that moment, I decided I should take him up on his invitation. It lights up my heart to say that this was by far the best decision I have ever made. That Sunday morning, I didn’t just see a welcoming church community; I saw a church where people who looked like me had been members right from its foundation. I saw a church that I would soon be able to call my second home. And that is why I am still Catholic today.”
Agents of Empathy. When asked about some of the challenges that he has experienced working in campus ministry, Fr. Urey stresses the absolute importance of becoming an “agent” of empathy. “Empathy in the act of accompaniment is needed as we walk with these young people. Campus ministers must do this.” It’s clear that Fr. Urey has identified a very real need. College is often a time of great change and transition. Many students carry the pain and brokenness of their family lives with them into college, and some experience newer hurts as they try to navigate this new arena of life.
“Young people often need help resolving the conflicts and crises in their lives,” Fr. Urey says. “There is no greater hurt than for someone to be misunderstood, because if they are misunderstood, they are misjudged.” And so the people of Lyke House learn to walk alongside their fellow students and help them find the healing power of the Lord. The goal of this accompaniment is to help students reconcile—with themselves, with others, and with God. By doing so, they gradually become more free and more like the Jesus whose life they carry within them. Over time, they come to bear great fruit themselves as instruments of reconciliation, justice, and evangelization in their homes, parishes, and local communities.
So yes, Lyke House does help keep students Catholic. But as they come together to worship and serve the Lord—and as they bring their cultural and Catholic traditions from around the world with them—they also become missionary disciples who will spread the light and love of Christ across the globe.
Deacon Keith Strohm writes from Chicago, Illinois.