Former Archbishop Philip Hannan, 98, eulogized JFK

September 29, 2011

Former Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, who gave the eulogy for President John F. Kennedy and later served more than three decades as the head of the New Orleans Roman Catholic Archdiocese, died Sept. 29 in New Orleans. He was 98.

The archdiocese announced the death but did not provide a cause of death.

Archbishop Hannan was the 11th archbishop in New Orleans history and one of the most active. When he turned 75 and had to retire as archbishop, he became president of WLAE-TV, the public television station he founded.

Assigned to New Orleans in 1965 from Washington, where he had been auxiliary bishop since 1956, he found that the old St. Louis Cathedral, in the middle of an area of the French Quarter aswarm with tourists, street performers, tarot card readers and musicians, instilled a unique pleasure to a churchman.

“This is the only city where an archbishop can walk into his cathedral while a band outside in Jackson Square is playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ ” he said.

When Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, his widow, Jacqueline, asked then-Bishop Hannan to deliver the eulogy because of his close personal relationship with the president, which dated back to the 1940s. Then-Father Hannan became friends with Kennedy by smoothing over a misunderstanding that Kennedy had with a Jesuit priest.

He also officiated at a quiet reburial of two Kennedy infants in 1964 so their bodies could be near their father’s in Arlington National Cemetery.

“We did it in the middle of the night, and so quietly that we caught everyone off guard,” Archbishop Hannan said in 1965. “Not even the Army chauffeurs knew where they were going when they picked us up.”

In 1968, Archbishop Hannan returned to Washington from New Orleans to give the graveside eulogy for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), who had been assassinated.

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died of cancer in 1994, Archbishop Hannan was again at Arlington to preside at a brief service preceding her burial.

As New Orleans’s archbishop, Archbishop Hannan combined conservative politics and service to the poor.

Highlights of his tenure as archbishop included the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II — a visit that Archbishop Hannan began angling for in 1984. After a while, said Archbishop Hannan, “Every time he saw me, he’d simply say, ‘New Orleans! New Orleans!’ ”

Archbishop Hannan lost a struggle to block the “no nukes” pastoral letter approved by the nation’s Catholic bishops in Chicago in 1983. He argued that the politics inherent in the letter could not help disarmament talks.

“Obviously, if the Russians think that 50 million Catholics are going to believe that we must say a ‘no’ to nuclear war . . . then, of course, we have no strength from which to argue for disarmament,” he said.

And he was outspoken in his opposition to legalized abortion. When Mary Landrieu (D) was running for her first Senate term in 1996, Archbishop Hannan said it would be a sin to vote for her because of her support of abortion rights.

Despite what were labeled conservative views, Archbishop Hannan had few peers in liberal social action. He said he decided to push the diocese to serve the poor when he walked through the city’s squalid public housing projects in 1965, shortly after his transfer from Washington.

Archbishop Hannan created what was at the time the largest housing program for the elderly — 2,780 units — of any U.S. diocese. The archdiocese also operates one of the biggest Catholic Charities in the nation. When Archbishop Hannan stepped down, its $20 million budget was helping more than 47,000 people a year.

Under his guidance, the church set up a hospice for AIDS patients. He said there was no contradiction in a ministry for homosexuals and drug addicts.

“We disapprove, too, of people being alcoholics or drinking too much. But we sure try to take care of them if they have that problem,” he said.

Philip Matthew Hannan was born May 20, 1913, in Washington. His late sister, Dr. Mary Mahoney, once was president of the National Conference of Catholic Women.

He was ordained in Rome in 1938 and served two years at a church in Baltimore, then volunteered as a paratroops chaplain in World War II, getting the nickname “The Jumping Padre.”

— Associated Press