James Patterson Lyke was born on February 18, 1939 in Chicago. He was the youngest of seven children born to Amos and Ora Lyke. His family affectionately called him “Jimmy.” He grew up in Wentworth Gardens, a public housing project on Chicago’s Southside. From these modest environs, he became a Franciscan friar, a Catholic priest, a teacher, a pastor, a bishop of the Church, and at the time of his untimely death in late 1992, he was the highest ranking African American in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Young Jimmy went to St. George Catholic School where his desire to become a Catholic eventually brought his mother, a Baptist, and all but one of his siblings into the faith.
After entering the Franciscan Order, Sacred Heart Province, he was ordained a Catholic priest on June 24, 1966. His first assignment was in Cleveland, Ohio where he taught at Padua High School. While in Cleveland, Father Lyke was active in the community and lead the local Operation Breadbasket efforts for civil rights.
After the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Father Lyke requested to be sent to Memphis where he served for nine years as pastor at St. Thomas Church (now St. Augustine). He was the first African American Catholic priest to serve in the state of Tennessee. During that time Father Lyke’s leadership in the Black Catholic community became national. He served as president of the National Office for Black Catholics and was a close advisor to Bishop Carroll of Memphis.
While a pastor at St. Thomas, Father Lyke was the first African American chaplain for Marriage Encounter. He authored the filmstrip marriage enrichment program, “Black Married Love.”
In 1977 he was assigned as chaplain of the Newman Center at Grambling University, an assignment that was short-lived. For in less than two years, Pope John Paul II called him to the episcopacy as auxiliary bishop of Cleveland. He was ordained August 1, 1979. He served as the Urban Vicar there until 1990 when he became the Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of Atlanta after the resignation of Archbishop Eugene Marino, SVD. On June 24, 1991, the 25th Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, James Patterson Lyke, OFM, PhD was installed as the fifth bishop and fourth archbishop of Atlanta.
Archbishop Lyke received his Ph.D. in theology with a specialization in catechetics from The Union Institute in Cincinnati in 1981. The title of his doctoral thesis is “A Black Perspective on the National Catechetical Directory.”
Among his most noted work is the African American Catholic Hymnal, “Lead Me, Guide Me,” which coordinated its production and publication with an outstanding committee of African American liturgists and musicians. It was published in 1986.
Among Lyke’s earlier educational experiences included a two-year liberal arts education at St. Joseph Seminary College in Oak Brook, Ill., and study in the Franciscan novitiate in Teutopolis. He received his B.A. in philosophy from Our Lady of Angels House of Philosophy through Quincy College, in Quincy, Ill. Following three years of preparation and a Master of Divinity degree from St. Joseph Theological Seminary through Antonianum in Rome, Italy, following study from 1963 to 1967.
He also served on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on the Catechetical Directory while he was working on his doctorate.
Archbishop Lyke received honorary doctorates from Grambling State University in Louisiana, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and the College of New Rochelle in New York.
In January of 1991 Lyke underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his kidney. Though his doctor was confident that the cancer was “well confined” to the kidney, and that “He should enjoy a full recovery and full activity,” just over a year later, cancer was discovered in the lining of his lung and was considered inoperable.
At the age of 53, Archbishop Lyke died on the Feast of the Holy Family, December 27, 1992.