At historic funeral, Archbishop Hannan eulogized as a man who heard and responded to ‘cry of the poor’

For a man who lived nearly a century, Archbishop Philip Matthew Hannan practiced a life of charity that reached back two millennia to the mandate of Jesus Christ to hear and respond to the “cry of the poor,” Msgr. Clinton Doskey told an overflow congregation at St. Louis Cathedral at his funeral Mass Oct. 6.

Archbishop Hannan, the 11th archbishop of New Orleans, died Sept. 29 at 98, and the love he engendered from local Catholics and people of other faiths clearly was manifested over a four-day period in which thousands filed past his open casket to pay their final respects and then lined the city streets to say farewell during a five-mile, horse-drawn procession Oct. 5 from Notre Dame Seminary to the cathedral.

Archbishop Hannan’s funeral Mass attracted more record crowds. Speaking to more than 950 people inside the cathedral and to hundreds more watching in Jackson Square on a jumbo TV screen set up in front of the Cabildo, Msgr. Doskey recalled how Archbishop Hannan established the archdiocesan Social Apostolate shortly after arriving in New Orleans in 1965 because he wanted to focus on race relations, education, affordable housing for the elderly and food programs for the needy.

 “The words of Scripture became alive and incarnate through the workings of Archbishop Hannan,” said Msgr. Doskey, who was the first director of the Social Apostolate. “He always heard the cry of the poor.”

Msgr. Doskey said Archbishop Hannan’s family background and training impelled him to care for others. His father Patrick, an Irish immigrant who built a plumbing business in Washington, D.C., from scratch and who had eight children, always looked out for the interests of his laborers and helped them take care of their money through savings accounts that he would set up for them.

In fact, Msgr. Doskey said, Archbishop Hannan chose his personal episcopal motto, “Charity is the bond of perfection,” because his father’s “philosophy in caring for the less advantaged” was such a driving force in his life.

“His mother’s love for education guided Philip to provide opportunities for the poor to whom opportunities were not available,” Msgr. Doskey said. “His experience as a paratrooper (during WWII) instilled in him what he had seen in his home – discipline and hard work. His graphic witnessing of the sufferings in the concentration camps and the need to care for all moved him from vision to action.”

Archbishop Gregory Aymond recalled Archbishop Hannan’s courage both in jumping out of planes as a paratroop chaplain with the 82nd Airborne and also “jumping into challenging dangers for the sake of the Gospel.”

“He whispered to God daily his hopes and dreams,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He also spoke boldly for respect of the life of the unborn, the dying, the poor and those with disabilities. He celebrated Mass in great cathedrals around the world and on the hood of a jeep. He prayed for the poor. He also heard their cry and provided food, housing, care for the elderly and medical care.”

Archbishop Hannan, who retired in 1988 but continued working daily at the television station he founded, also was noted for extending a Catholic hand to members of other Christian denominations and other faiths. After the funeral Mass, Rabbi Edward Cohn of Temple Sinai called Archbishop Hannan the “pastor of the whole community.”

“He was really a father figure to all of us,” Rabbi Cohn said. “We all wanted him to think well of us, so we rose to the occasion so that he would be pleased. He was at his heart a universalist. He looked at the world as a collection of all of God’s children. When people were tempted to follow their negative instincts, he prevented us from doing so by being in his presence. We really wanted to show the perfect example.”

Stories flowed out during the week of mourning from people who knew him well and from those who only encountered him a few times. Dr. Joan Higgins, who used to live across the street from the archbishop’s residence, recalled how there were regular car wrecks at the intersection in front of his house. Without fail, Archbishop Hannan would join neighbors by offering emotional and spiritual comfort to the people who were injured.

“This was in the days before cell phones,” Higgins said. “The archbishop would not leave until he was sure everyone was OK or headed to the hospital for treatment. What he gave was a real gift of presence. That’s what I’ll remember about him – his presence.”

Another woman, Colleen Lewis, was a cook at Notre Dame Seminary for 10 years. Even though Lewis needed assistance and walked with a cane to get up the steps at Notre Dame Seminary, she knew she had to come to pay her respects.

“He was always a good person,” Lewis said. “One night my daughter and I had finished work, and we were going to catch the bus to go home. He was taking his walk, and he said he was going to wait with us until we got on the bus. The bus came and he said bye-bye. He was just real nice to everyone.”

Archbishop Aymond said he was overwhelmed in December 2009 when Archbishop Hannan celebrated his 70th anniversary of priestly ordination and then gave him the pectoral cross he first used when he was ordained auxiliary bishop of Washington in 1956. Archbishop Aymond wore the pectoral cross at the funeral Mass.

Then, turning to look at the casket, Archbishop Aymond said, “Archbishop, thank you for being to me so dedicated a father and a brother. Thank you for being a good shepherd.”

Until Archbishop Hannan’s death, the Archdiocese of New Orleans was the only one in the world with four living archbishops. The two other retired archbishops are Archbishops Francis B. Schulte (1988-2002) and Alfred C. Hughes (2002-09).

But the running joke was that there was only one archbishop of New Orleans – Philip M. Hannan.

“Archbishop Hannan and I joked about that in recent months,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I finally said, ‘Archbishop, after you leave us and return to the Lord, what should I do?’ He said, ‘I think you should be installed as the archbishop of New Orleans.'”

“Archbishop Hannan, thank you. We will miss you. Please pray for us. We love you, and, in many ways, you will always be our shepherd.”

Archbishop Aymond said Archbishop Hannan “was never opposed to having the last word,” which is why he decided to read the final words of his recently published autobiography, “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots.”

“From my perspective … I will accomplish in death what I could not in life because as priests we are most fully alive when we die,” Archbishop Hannan wrote. “If we don’t feel that way, we certainly have not served the cause of Christ as we were meant to. In the final spiritual analysis, to fulfill the will of God, a priest must die in life as did his own Son. And when that time comes, with the grace of God, I am ready.”

Archbishop Aymond then said, “We know you were ready.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at


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