1965: Philip Hannan becomes archbishop of New Orleans
On Sept. 29, 1965, when New Orleans was still reeling from Hurricane Betsy‘s assault on Sept. 9, Pope Paul VI appointed Philip M. Hannan, the auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., to lead the Crescent City’s Catholics. He succeeded John Patrick Cody, whom the pope had appointed archbishop of Chicago. During Hannan’s 23-year tenure, one of his primary focuses was the needs of the city’s poor, working with the federal government to set up a network of housing, medical literacy and other services.
Hannan retired in 1988 and died in 2011 at age 98, but his local legacy runs deep. In addition to the social services agencies he helped establish, there is an Archbishop Hannan High School in Covington — Hurricane Katrina destroyed the original campus in Meraux in 2005 — and Hannan’s service is commemorated by an Ivan Mestrovic sculpture, “Christ and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well,” on the front lawn at Notre Dame Seminary.
- During World War II, Hannan was a chaplain attached to the 82nd Airborne Division; he jumped with the soldiers, giving rise to his nickname “the jumping padre.” At one point, when Hannan’s uniform was caked with blood, he had this insight that he put in his memoir: “This is what I was ordained for. May God give me the grace to do what I should.”
- Hannan befriended John F. Kennedy shortly after Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Hannan, at Jacqueline Kennedy’s request, delivered the eulogy at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and stood next to her when Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1994, he preached at her burial there.
- Hannan also was asked to deliver a eulogy for U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in June 1968 during his presidential campaign.
- Although Washington was his hometown, Hannan took to New Orleans with a vengeance. A second-line umbrella, Mardi Gras beads and a Zulu coconut adorned a foyer table at his residence, and in 2010, despite his frailty, he flew to Miami to sit with New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson in Benson’s box to watch the team win Super Bowl XLIV.
- Hannan possessed a dry, understated wit. When New Orleans was awarded a National Football League franchise on Nov. 1, 1966 — All Saints’ Day — Gov. John J. McKeithen asked Hannan whether calling the team the Saints would be sacrilegious. “I told the governor I’d have no objection,” Hannan recalled later. “But I also reminded him, from the viewpoint of the Church, most of the saints were martyrs.”
- Hannan was a staunch anti-Communist who opposed the concept of a nuclear-weapons freeze in the 1980s. When Poland was under martial law early in that decade, Hannan wore a lapel pin in the shape of the logo of Solidarity, the labor union opposing the Communist regime. Given this background, it seems appropriate that Hannan High School’s mascot is Harry the Hawk.
- He was impossible to pigeonhole. Although Hannan favored capital punishment as a deterrent, he frequently wrote to prosecutors on behalf of individual defendants. And after opposing a 1985 city ordinance giving equal rights to gay men and lesbians, the archdiocese later that year donated a building that became Project Lazarus, a home for people — mostly gay men — with AIDS.
- During Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit to the United States, he spent two nights at the archbishop’s residence on the Notre Dame Seminary campus. On the second night, when he and Hannan returned to the house after an exhausting day of speeches and Masses, the Polish-born pontiff was serenaded, in Polish, by a choir.
- In accordance with canon law, Hannan submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II when he turned 75. Because Hannan chose to remain in the New Orleans area and be active, and because he lived to be 98, he was around for three of his successors: Francis Bible Schulte, Alfred Clifton Hughes and Gregory Michael Aymond.
- Because Hannan had been a popular member of the community for so long, his death touched off days of mourning, starting with a visitation at Notre Dame Seminary and continuing with a procession to St. Louis Cathedral, where the Mass was said and where Hannan was buried, according to custom, beneath the cathedral floor near the altar.
- Music for the procession was provided by the St. Augustine High School Marching 100. In addition to religious music, the band struck up “Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk),” the raucous song by the Ying Yang Twins that became part of the Saints’ pregame ritual. Some purists professed to be horrified, but word got out that the song was included at Hannan’s request.
- In recognition of his service, Hannan was awarded The Times-Picayune Loving Cup, and he received honorary doctor of laws degrees from Georgetown University and the Catholic University of America, which named its new science center Hannan Hall.
Almost from the moment he arrived in New Orleans, Hannan never stopped looking for new ways in which the Church could help the least fortunate in the community. These initiatives included establishing the Social Apostolate to feed the poor and elderly, restructuring the Archdiocesan Catholic Charities system and establishing the local Vietnamese community when he invited people from that country to come to New Orleans after South Vietnam fell in 1975. “He always heard the cry of the poor and was willing to do whatever was necessary to respond to that call,” said Roger Morin, who was executive director of the archdiocese’s Department of Community Services before being appointed bishop of Biloxi, Mississippi. By showing that he was an active, caring member of the community, Hannan became popular — then beloved.