Local News Archive
Print Issue: May 8, 1997
Archbishop Breaks Ground For AUC Catholic Center
BY GRETCHEN KEISER
ATLANTA--Catholic students at the Atlanta University Center from the 1950s to the 1990s celebrated April 27 as a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a permanent Catholic Center on the historic black campus.
"I have been really excited and I have been looking forward to this day for so long," said Carla Shelton, a Philadelphia student at Spelman College who has been involved with Catholic campus outreach since 1994.
Ben Gibson, who studied at Morehouse College in the late 1950s, has been looking forward to it for 38 years. In 1959 he was asked by Father Michael McKeever to help establish a Newman Center on the campus because he had a seminary background. Gibson recounted that Dr. Benjamin Mays, celebrated Morehouse president, was not amused when first asked if Mass could be celebrated in a classroom on the Baptist campus. Dr. Mays did permit Masses to begin, but in Danforth Chapel, Gibson said.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Dr. Joseph Thompson, current executive director of the AU Center, welcomed the future Catholic Center on behalf of the six member institutions. In addition to Spelman and Morehouse, the campus includes Clark-Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Interdenominational Theological Seminary.
"The building of a physical edifice is, yes, a contribution," Thompson said, "but the one for which we give the greatest applause is the spiritual contribution" the Catholic Center will make to the life of students, faculty and administrators on the campus.
"We are happy you are coming and we will continue to do everything we can to welcome you," he said.
The Catholic Center will be named in honor of the late Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM. It is being built in the heart of the campus adjacent to the Robert Woodruff Library on a site acquired through the purchase of many small, privately owned lots.
A multi-story building that will evoke the design of one of the oldest Catholic churches in Africa, the Catholic Center will include a chapel for 230 people, a daily Mass chapel, a library, conference and meeting rooms, a recreation area where students can relax and meet, and living quarters for a priest. While the church in Africa is carved out of rock, the Catholic Center at AU Center will be poured concrete.
The Catholic Center is one of the projects being funded by the $50 million Campaign for the Archdiocese of Atlanta entitled, "Building The Church of Tomorrow." The Campaign is raising $2.5 million toward construction of the Catholic Center at AU Center.
Scriptures chosen by Father Edward Branch, Catholic chaplain, spoke of Jesus as the cornerstone chosen by God and of the wisdom of building one's spiritual house on solid rock.
"Today, upon the rock hard and inspired substance of faith, our Catholic faith, so well exemplified in the life of Archbishop Lyke, and upon the rock hard and generous stability of the Catholic people of this Archdiocese of Atlanta, we now begin to build a new House for the worship of God, and for the sheltering of His faithful friends," Archbishop John F. Donoghue said.
The archbishop said building the center would "complete a dream" of Archbishop Lyke, who himself served as a campus minister in Louisiana, and who blessed the first Catholic Center at AU Center, a small house, six years ago.
Father Branch cites the support of Archbishop Lyke and Archbishop Eugene Marino, SSJ, in moving toward the milestone of a permanent Catholic Center. After hearing students' requests, Archbishop Marino asked for a feasibility study by his order, the Josephites, which concluded a Catholic center was needed with a full-time priest on staff, Father Branch said. A priest of the Louisville, Ky., Diocese, Father Branch was asked to come to Atlanta for this purpose and arrived in 1990.
He is chaplain to an estimated 600 Catholic students from around the U.S. and overseas who are studying at the AU Center, whose colleges make up the largest consortium of black educational institutions and black scholars anywhere in the world.
While black Catholics make up only one percent of the black population, they make up eight percent of the student population at the AU Center, Father Branch said. "How do you maintain the work of catechesis and evangelization that has been done" to bring young people to this point in their Catholic faith, he asked, without "a credible institution" at the college level.
Without a vibrant Catholic Center on campus, Father Branch said, "you are really asking to lose all those young people who are making decisions about all kinds of things, including what will be the spiritual focus of their lives."
Spelman student Carla Shelton, who went to Our Lady of Victory in West Philadelphia and Notre Dame Academy in Villanova, Pa., discovered in the South questions she had not heard or confronted before.
"Do you know what salvation is, are you saved, why would you want to be a black person and Catholic?" were questions she and other students heard from peers and that some found hard to answer.
In addition to being a place of worship, the Catholic Center will be "a safe place to go to question what I believe" and receive solid answers, Shelton said, with reference materials on Catholicism, doctrine and the roots of the church, including the history of blacks in the Catholic Church.
The size of the Catholic Center will help to attract more students, including those who are alienated from the church, Shelton said. "It will definitely be a place in the future where many important discussions will take place about faith on our campus."