Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hannan, At Ease: NOLA Legend Dies at 98

Leading the news this morning, the death of an iconic figure of the American church: Philip Hannan, the 11th archbishop of New Orleans, whose 55 years of episcopal ministry saw him take on roles from media pioneer to political powerhouse -- and seemingly everything in between -- died at 98 overnight.

An ecclesial and civic force alike well into his quarter-century retirement, Hannan's passage fittingly came not just on the feast of the Archangels -- the historic patron-saints of communication -- but the 46th anniversary of his appointment to New Orleans, a time that would become evenly split in two 23-year spans as ordinary and archbishop-emeritus.

Widely held as the Big Easy's "first citizen" -- and, arguably, likewise its most beloved -- there was little of the 20th century in either the church or the world that the Washington native's ministry failed to experience first-hand: decorated Army chaplain in the World War II airborne ranks; adviser to the nation's lone Catholic president and eulogist at his funeral; father of the Second Vatican Council and host of the first Papal Visit to the American South; a combatant in wars against racism, poverty, crime, abortion and AIDS; founder of a TV station who rode out Hurricane Katrina while stranded in his studio and, from its 1967 founding, the spiritual father of an NFL franchise (whose first Super Bowl victory he was present for, at age 96)...

...and much like the prelate who came to be known as the "Energizer Bunny," the epic list goes on, and on, and on.

Ordained a priest of Washington in 1939, Hannan became an auxiliary bishop of the capital in 1956 -- but only after founding the DC archdiocese's newspaper, the Catholic Standard. At Vatican II, the future archbishop was the lead coordinator of briefings for the English-language media covering the Council; with Hannan's death, retired Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle becomes the last surviving American prelate to have attended all four of the Council's sessions as a bishop. (Retired since 1991, Hunthausen, now 90, was ordained bishop of Helena two months before the Council's opening in October 1962.)

At noon, current NOLA Archbishop Gregory Aymond -- who the late archbishop ordained a priest, then named as rector of the city's Notre Dame Seminary in 1986 -- will hold a press conference at which the funeral arrangements will be announced.

In a statement this morning, Aymond said that "in every way," Hannan "was a good shepherd of the church who was modeled after Christ, not just for Catholics of New Orleans but for the whole community."

"[H]e truly made New Orleans his home. This was his parish and his archdiocese, and it had no boundaries. He was there for anyone and everyone. That was his goal in life.

"He always quoted St. Paul, and he truly believed that his mission and ministry was to preach the Gospel untiringly both in actions and in words."

(Hannan is shown above right with Aymond and (from left) his first two successors, Archbishops Alfred Hughes and Francis Schulte, after the 14th archbishop's 2009 installation. Below, the archbishop is shown leading the 1994 burial of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Arlington National Cemetery.)

Hannan is the first Crescent City archbishop to be farewelled since 1964, when Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel died at 88. The German-born prelate famously ordered the desegregation of the city's Catholic schools, then garnered national headlines for excommunicating three members of his fold who led public resistance to the move.

At the end of several lifetimes' worth of labors, may he rest well and know his well-merited reward... and as only New Orleans can do, let the jazz funeral begin:

SVILUPPO: The fullvideo of Hannan's 1963 eulogy at JFK's Requiem Mass has been posted.

SVILUPPO 2: Following a four-day wake, the archbishop's Funeral Mass has been announced for 2pm on Thursday, 6 October, in NOLA's St Louis Cathedral.

PHOTOS: Times-Picayune Archive (1,2,4); Frank J. Methe/Clarion Herald(3)