The Catholic Roots of Obama's Activism
CHICAGO — In a meeting room under Holy Name Cathedral, a rapt group of black Roman Catholics listened as Barack Obama, a 25-year-old community organizer, trained them to lobby their fellow delegates to a national congress in Washington on issues like empowering lay leaders and attracting more believers.
“He so quickly got us,” said Andrew Lyke, a participant in the meeting who is now the director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics. The group succeeded in inserting its priorities into the congress’s plan for churches, Mr. Lyke said, and “Barack Obama was key in helping us do that.”
By the time of that session in the spring of 1987, Mr. Obama — himself not Catholic — was already well known in Chicago’s black Catholic circles. He had arrived two years earlier to fill an organizing position paid for by a church grant, and had spent his first months here surrounded by Catholic pastors and congregations. In this often overlooked period of the president’s life, he had a desk in a South Side parish and became steeped in the social justice wing of the church, which played a powerful role in his political formation.