ATLANTA — The man picked by Pope John Paul II to succeed Archbishop Eugene A. Marino as archbishop of Atlanta is a convert to Catholicism who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The appointment makes Bishop James P. Lyke, 52, the nation's highest-ranking black Catholic. He has been administrator of the archdiocese since Marino resigned in July, 1990. Marino, who remains a bishop, originally cited personal and medical reasons for his departure, but a month later Lyke acknowledged that the archbishop had been involved in a relationship with Vicki R. Long, a woman who had earlier brought a paternity suit against a local priest.
At a news conference following his appointment earlier this week, Lyke said he "begrudgingly" accepted his role as a spokesperson for black Catholics. "I would hope that in the Archdiocese of Atlanta my actions will speak louder than my words, and I will practice what I preach," he said.
While saying that he "would not recommend that any of us forget" the circumstances of Marino's resignation, the new archbishop said that "the manner in which we remember it is critical for the future." He said that "from my own sins, I have learned that God forgives me" and wants people to move on.
Lyke was raised in a Chicago housing project as the youngest of seven children. He lost two siblings to violence and another to tuberculosis. He converted to Catholicism in the fourth grade, and his Baptist mother, who did laundry to earn money to send him to Catholic schools, followed him into the fold.
Lyke entered a Franciscan order in 1959. He was ordained a priest in 1966 and after graduating from St. Joseph Theological Seminary in Teutopolis, Ill., a year later, his first assignment was as the only black teacher at a white school in Parma, Ill.
He met King while taking part in Operation Breadbasket, a ministerial alliance for economic justice. When the civil rights leader was killed in 1968, Lyke requested a transfer to Memphis because that was the city where King was slain.
In Memphis, Lyke pastored St. Thomas Church for nine years and saw its membership grow from about 200 to 1,100. He was named pastor of St. Benedict the Black parish and Newman Center at Grambling State University in 1977 and was ordained auxiliary bishop of Cleveland in 1979.