Lyke Conference celebrates the black Catholic community

Father R. Tony Ricard stands with Pam Harris during the Archbishop James Patterson Lyke Conference held in North Charleston. Father Ricard was one of the featured speakers. (Provided/Pam Harris)

Father R. Tony Ricard stands with Pam Harris during the Archbishop James Patterson Lyke Conference held in North Charleston. Father Ricard was one of the featured speakers. (Provided/Pam Harris)NORTH CHARLESTON—Speakers and participants at The Archbishop James Patterson Lyke Conference proclaimed loud and proud that the Catholics were there.

The annual event was held at the North Charleston Convention Center June 23-27 and drew about 400 people from across the country, according to registration figures.

The event was organized by Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries in the Diocese of Charleston, with support from Father Henry Kulah and the parishioners of St. Patrick and Our Lady of Mercy churches.

From the opening institutes dedicated to marriage, music and dance, to the closing Mass, participants came together to celebrate African-American history and culture in conjunction with their faith.

“I’ve been looking forward to the music, all the good prayer services, the worship and all the love they’re going to be showing around here,” said Cherry Seabrook, a member of St. Patrick Church in Charleston.

Good feelings were definitely shining forth, reflecting the theme, “Lord I want to be a Christian.”

From behind the doors of various sessions, voices could be heard raised in song, lifted in laughter, or speaking more quietly on serious issues.

More than 30 presenters attended the conference with a wide range of topics that offered something for everyone, including youth and children.

Betty Laribo, another member of St. Patrick, said the whole conference is geared toward the family.

Running in tandem with the general sessions for adults were tracks developed for children under 13 and youth ages 13 to 17, along with their youth leaders. Those programs were all interactive and energetic.

Although most of the participants were over 13, a handful of parents and other family members attended with young children.

Ricquel Lyles came by bus from the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., with 33 other people, including her young niece and nephews. With one nephew in a stroller, she held the hand of her niece and spoke proudly about her older nephew who participated in the opening prayer service June 25.

“We bring the kids just so they can see things and have a different experience,” she said.

Later, Lyles stood in the doorway of a liturgical dance session and divided her attention between the program and her two young charges, who were enthralled by the music and movement.

She said she is unable to do all she would like, but it’s worth it to give the children a feel for their faith in the larger church.

Most of the youth at the conference were teenagers, old enough to participate in their own events and social gatherings.

Deacons Carl Johnson and James Williams assist Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams during a Mass at the conference, which was held June 23-27. (Provided/Arthur C. McFarland)Winnie Benaiah, from Pittsburgh, said she met a number of other teens at the Family Affair social on June 24 hosted by Father Patrick Tuttle, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville. She said it was a wonderful night, with music, dancing and food.

Benaiah, 19, and Ja’Lea Bell, 10, were two of the performers in the liturgical dance sessions led by Ayisha Morgan-Lee. It was the first time Morgan-Lee had presented at the conference.

The youth spoke of her love for dance and how uplifting it is to incorporate it into the faith through liturgy. She said she was also excited to be part of other events.

Sacred dance was one of the institutes that helped kick off the conference June 23-24, along with the Father Clarence Rivers music institute and the Arusi marriage institute.

A morning prayer service ushered in the first full day of the conference on June 25. About 300 people filled the ballroom and lifted their voices in praise with the choir, moved with the liturgical dancers, and called out their affirmation to Father David A. Jones, homilist.

Father Jones told the crowd it is easy to look Catholic, but it isn’t enough to just mimic the actions of others in church and then go about one’s business in life.

“If you don’t praise the Lord, the rocks will cry out,” he said.

The rocks were a reference to African-American Catholic leaders who had passed on to Jesus. During the prayer service, homage was paid to others who had lived their lives walking the way of God.

The priest told the congregation that their forefathers aren’t dead, their church isn’t dead, and their faith isn’t dead.

“You are all wonderfully black, faithfully Catholic, precious in the eyes of the Lord,” Father Jones said.

He urged them to carry that passion into the world, to make others look up and cry, “Look out, here come the Catholics!”

After a powerful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” lifted everyone from their seats, they left the room pumped up and ready for their favorite sessions.

Whether the topic was theology of the body, tapping into the joy of giving, or re-evangelizing youth, speakers stressed the power of the African-American community and their great need to work together.

No matter which session people attended, they expressed a desire to grow, rejuvenate, and rekindle the passion of the Lord, and carry it back to their communities.  

“It’s all about a renewal of faith and commitment to serve the church,” said Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, principal of St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia.

She led sessions on how parishes with schools can enhance the daily Mass, and said she wanted to make them feel the power of God and pass it on to others.

For a complete list of speakers, visit

See related article: Institutes on marriage, dance and song warm up the conference