Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 7, 1993
Archbishop James Lyke, OFM -- 1939-1992
By Gretchen Keiser
In a funeral marked by his own devotion to the Catholic liturgy, Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, was laid to rest Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
The 53-year-old prelate, fourth archbishop of Atlanta and the highest ranking black bishop in the U.S. Catholic Church, died Dec. 27 at his Atlanta home.
He had fought an inoperable form of cancer for eight months. Treatment proved ineffective and he received hospice care at home until his death.
Four days of funeral services culminated the morning of Dec. 31 with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C., at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Concelebrants included Archbishop Agostin Caciavillan, papal pronuncio to the United States, Cardinals Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and John OConnor of New York, and over 30 archbishops and bishops. Approximately 200 priest including many black priest from across the country, also joined the celebration.
An estimated 1,000 people jammed the cathedral, many standing in double lines in the aisles for the two-hour Mass, which was shaped by explicit directions given by Archbishop Lyke.
Coming to Atlanta two and a half years ago, he was mourned as a leader both by those who knew him in North Georgia and by clergy and laity who worked with him over two decades in the Church.
A Franciscan priest for 26 years, James Patterson Lyke was born in Chicago Feb. 18, 1939 and was raised by his mother, Ora Sneed Lyke, a Baptist who sent him to Catholic school in the fourth grade to keep him out of trouble.
Through that doorway, he and his entire family except one sibling entered the Catholic Church. The youngest of seven children, Jim Lyke grew up poor in a housing project and always revered his mother for the values she instilled in family despite many obstacles. She died while he was in the seminary.
His priesthood drew him into many areas of service. A high school religion teacher in Ohio in 1968, he asked to be sent to Memphis, Tenn. after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated there.
His Franciscan superiors approved the request and he became the first black Catholic priest regularly assigned to the state of Tennessee. As pastor of St. Thomas Church in Memphis, he introduced African-American elements into worship in the black parish and became deeply involved in civil rights.
Later he served as a pastor and Newman Center director at Grambling State University in Louisiana.
After two years there, he was elevated by Pope John Paul II and appointed auxiliary bishop of Cleveland, where he served as vicar of the urban region for eleven years. He came to Atlanta in 1990, first as apostolic administrator and then as archbishop, to lead the community beyond the trauma of Archbishop Eugene A. Marinos resignation amid scandal.
His approach combined a willingness to discuss the hurt and to answer questions with an energetic desire to move the archdiocese forward. He often said that all the news coverage failed to capture the forgiveness and love people of the archdiocese extended to Archbishop Marino.
He was a bright light who came at a dark time and he burned himself out for the sake of Atlanta, said Claud Shirley, a member of his staff. Whether he knew it or not, he came here to give everything he had to the Church of Atlanta.
He officially began the healing process by forgiving (Archbishop) Marino, by not being afraid to mention his name, by extending to him love Then, lets get cracking, coming alive again. Thats expiation, too, an absorption of grief into momentum.
He was sent here for a specific purpose and he achieved it, said Father Don Kenny, chancellor of the archdiocese. The purpose was to restore morale, to heal and to bring leadership and I think he did all three.
Restraint characterized the funeral Mass because the archbishop wanted it that way. Gerard OConnor, his administrative assistant, said the archbishop wanted the focus to be on the Resurrection and not on emotion, but emotion shimmered below the surface.
Father John Ford, ST, told the congregation he was merely reading homily given to him by Archbishop Lyke before his death. He was concerned that at funerals there were far too many eulogies and too few homilies that touch on Gods word, the homilist said.
A close friend of the archbishops, Father Fords voice broke as he read, Life is full of compromise and letting go. None of us survive these things unless we have the courage to look above and beyond.
For those who believe, life comes after death, he said. For those who believe, the flesh has never truly lived until death brings it into the very life-giving sight of God.
While people experience sadness and pain at a friends death, we must also call to mind that God has a purpose for each of us, and that only God can see into the soul of each of us, discerning there how we may play our part in the work of salvation.
While the archdiocese of Atlanta has known sorrow before and carried heavy burdens, the homilist said, how generous God is, to give us help when we need it.
Today we must begin to think of the future, we must turn to the work at hand, and resume the patient but insistent work of the Gospel.
Cardinal Hickey, who recalled imposing his hands upon the head of the priest to consecrate him bishop of Cleveland in 1979, said, He became my spiritual son. I loved him and I shall continue to love him.
Forgive me for thus infringing upon the strict norms you laid down on this day, Cardinal Hickey said, his voice breaking. We do this in love. You have been so kind a brother and we loved you so very much.
Music throughout the Mass was drawn from the African-American Catholic hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me, which the archbishop had shepherded into production in the 1980s. Pianist Marjorie Gabriel-Burrow of Detroit and soloist Rawn Harbor of Chicago, two musicians who were at the heart of the hymnal project, played and sang the spirituals Fix Me Jesus and Jesus Is Here Right Now.
The Cathedral choir added There Is A Balm In Gilead and The Prayer of St. Francis among other hymns during the Mass.
His sisters Doris Fields and Rayetta Holman and his brother, Andrew Lyke, Sr., all of Chicago, and many nieces and nephews and extended family members were joined by rows of Atlanta dignitaries.
Mayor Maynard Jackson, former mayor Sam Massell, Police Chief Eldrin Bell and Senator Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) were among those representing the city and the state. Representatives of consulates from Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland attended.
Bishop Charles J. Child, retired Episcopal bishop of Atlanta, and Bishop Frank K. Allan, current Episcopal bishop, attended the funeral. Other dignitaries were Bishop Philip of Daphnousia of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta and Father Homer Goumenis, dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The Reverend Thomas Scholl of the Georgia Christian Council and Bishop J. Delano Ellis, bishop of the Pentecostal Diocese of Ohio, a friend from the archbishops tenure in Cleveland, also attended.
Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore and Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, president and vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, were among the concelebrants of the Mass, as were the bishops of the Atlanta province from Georgia, North and South Carolina.
The six deans of the archdiocese served as pallbearers: Father Thomas Kenny, Cathedral rector, Monsignor R. Donald Kieman, Pastor of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, Father Edward OConnor, pastor of St. Theresas, Douglasville, Father Edward J. Thein, Pastor of St. Josephs, Dalton, Father William E. Calhoun, pastor of St. Marys, Toccoa and Father John C. Kieran, pastor of St. Peters, LaGrange.
St. Pius X student body president Ben Montello and Cathedral parishioners Fred and Barbara Johansen were lectors. The gifts were brought to the altar by Sister Michelle Carroll, RSM, chairman of the board of St. Josephs Health System, Dee Flanagan of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and Ed de St. Aubin of the Archdiocesan Planning and Development Council, while a trumpet soloist, Steve Wincik played. The choir was directed by Kevin Culver, while Timothy Wissler was organist.
Following the Mass the coffin was brought out of the cathedral through an honor guard of priests. Several hundred people took part in a rite of committal celebrated by cardinal Hickey at the section of Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs where priests and bishops of the archdiocese are buried.
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Carl Fisher, who is himself battling cancer, said Archbishop Lyke became a great inspiration to me in accepting his suffering. A true disciple always utters not my will, but thine be done, and that is what he did, Bishop Fisher said.
Father Cyprian Davis, OSB, black Catholic historian reflected that Archbishop Lyke instigated many significant projects as a black priest and bishop from the time he became president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in the 1970s. He cited his central role in the writing of the pastoral letter, What We Have Seen and Heard, by the U.S. black bishops, his responsibility for the hymnal Lead Me, Guide Me and innovative work in black Catholic liturgy both at the parish level and nationally.
He was a man of tremendous vision, Father Davis said, and he had the ability to get other people to do the work. He recognized talent. He supported it. He enabled it to come to fruition.
I think the Catholic Church owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude. He was a seed planter, a starter.
Monsignor Edward Dillon, who worked closely with the archbishop as his vicar general, fought back tears and said, Neither of us could show emotion, but we felt it.
As colleagues he found their friendship unique and valuable for the role of archbishop did not cause Archbishop Lyke to feel threatened when others took issue with his viewpoint.
You could actually disagree with him and disagree with him strongly. He never held it against you. He worked like that. You didnt feel you were in any way challenging his authority. You honestly disagreed, Monsignor Dillon said.
Cardinal Hickey said he frequently sought the counsel of Archbishop Lyke, particularly in matters of sensitivity to the African-American community, and found his guidance always wise.
I know also how kind he was to priests who had worries or problems, the cardinal said. He would spend hours talking with them. It was a great charity, a great love for brother priests.
Registered nurse Sharon Funderburk, who took care of him before the hospice program began, said the archbishop would sometimes phone the nursing service in the middle of the night when he had concerns. I was awed by the man, but he was real, she said at the funeral. I talked to him. I comforted him.
Father Kenny, who lives at the archbishops residence, mentioned Archbishop Lykes great admiration for the late Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, who continued to minister for many years despite cancer.
In July when he told me he was going to die excluding a divine intervention, he said he hoped that he could die like Thea and never complain of pain, and never once did I hear him complain of pain.
At the time of his death, hospice nurse Pat Davis, his sister Doris, his adopted sister Erma Laws of Memphis and Howard Brown, a family friend who also works in archdiocesan black Catholic ministry, and Father Kenny were present.
Going into the night from the 26th onto the 27th, he became very much at peace, Father Kenny said. You could visibly see the acceptance of what was happening and letting go.