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Pathfinder James Lyke dies in Atlanta.

ATLANTA -- Archbishop James P. Lyke of Atlanta, the only active black archbishop in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, died of cancer at home Dec. 27. He was 53.

His funeral Mass was to be celebrated Dec. 31 at Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta.

Lyke was a leader in the civil-rights and pro-life movements and in African-American cultural and liturgical development. He wrote numerous articles in national publications on black Catholic issues in America. His death reduces to 11 the number of active U.S. black Catholic bishops.

Beverly Carroll, head of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Black Catholics, called him "a giant in the African-American Catholic movement."

"He was certainly one of the most prophetic leaders I have ever met," she said. "He had such a passion for the Catholic tradition.... He had a keen sense of family, and he was a prophetic writer."

When he was made an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland in 1979 at the age of 40, Lyke was the youngest bishop in the country, only the fifth U.S. black bishop and -- a Chicago native -- the first black from the North to become a bishop.

In the early 1980s he played an important role in organizing the black bishops to work as a group. In 1984 he coordinated their writing and issuance of "What We Have Seen an d Heard." The first-ever joint pastoral letter by the black bishops, who then numbered 10, it proclaimed the richness of the black Catholic heritage in America but called racism a festering wound in the church, one that inhibits evangelization of blacks.

He was thrust into the international spotlight in August 1990, just three weeks after he was named administrator of the Atlanta archdiocese. It became known that his predecessor, Archbishop Eugene A. Marino, who had recently resigned, had had a two-year affair with a young woman, Vicki Long. Bishop Lyke launched a thorough, independent investigation into questions of church finances raised by the scandal. His openness in dealing with the issues was credited with restoring trust in the church within the archdiocese.

The Marino-Long scandal had barely waned when doctors operated on Lyke in January 1991 to remove a cancerous kidney. In April 1991, nearly 10 months after Lyke had become administrator of the Atlanta archdiocese, Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop. Last April, doctors found inoperable cancer in his right lung. In November, as the cancer worsened and it became clear that further treatment would not help, at his request he began receiving hospice care at home.

Carroll said Lyke's single most important legacy to the church was Lead Me, Guide Me, an African-American Catholic hymnal that is widely used in the United States and abroad. He coordinated the African-American Hymnal Project, which produced the 450-selection hymnal in 1986. It sold more than 100,000 copies within four years. His first pastoral letter in Atlanta was an extended poem on unborn life. In it, he drew from his Franciscan spiritual roots to try to get past the usual debates over abortion to a deeper level of what he called "a feeling for new life ... the joy, excitement, miracle and potential of every new life."

Humble beginnings

James Patterson Lyke was born in Chicago on Feb. 18, 1939, the youngest of seven children raised by their mother in an inner-city housing project. Baptized when he was 10, he joined the Order of Friars Minor in 1959 and was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1966.

In 1967-68 he taught religion at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio, and worked with several civil-rights projects in the area. He also conducted high-school retreats and worked with the Cleveland diocesan liturgical commission.

In 1968-77 be was at St. Thomas (later St. Augustine) Parish in Memphis, Tenn., first as associate pastor and then as pastor and superior of the local Franciscan community. When he was named pastor in 1970, he was the youngest priest to hold a pastorate in the state of Tennessee. He was also administrator of St. Bertrand Elementary School, the only experimental elementary school in the Memphis Diocese.

In 1977-79 he was pastor of St. Benedict the Black Church in Grambling, La., and director of the Newman Center at Grambling State University. While in Memphis, he began to receive national recognition as a black Catholic leader. When he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Cleveland in 1979, be also was president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, on the board of directors of the National Office for Black Catholics and a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was also involved in a number of major civil-rights projects.

As a bishop be testified before Congress several times in support of increased federal funding to fight hunger, poverty and homelessness. He also urged tuition tax credits for parents who wish to choose nonpublic schools for their children, arguing that "the real poverty in our inner-city neighborhoods is the lack of such choices.... Tuition tax credits will enable poor families to have a choice."

He was a member of the Black United Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, Bread for the World, Pax Christi USA and a variety of other national black and Catholic organizations.

Besides his extensive involvement in various public policy issues, such as poverty and civil rights, among Lyke's driving interests were liturgy, education, black culture, family life and catechesis. Most of his published articles focused on black Catholic perspectives on worship, culture, evangelization and family life.

Carroll said that as a convert Lyke liked to point out that he was a Catholic "because he really wanted to be Catholic." He was committed to expanding the multicultural dimensions of Catholicism, she said.

The 1984 black bishops' pastoral, which he coordinated, marked a new phase in African-American Catholic consciousness, Carroll said. It sparked the modern revival of national black Catholic congresses. When the second such congress met last July in New Orleans, Lyke was too ill to attend, but he wrote a paper that was read to the delegates.

In it, he wrote: "We must help the next generation understand their spiritual and cultural history. Then that pride will spill over into the community. The church can become a trusted institution in black neighborhoods."
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Title Annotation:Archbishop James P. Lyke, 53
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Jan 8, 1993
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