Remembrance of Archbishop Philip Hannan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I’ve heard it said that when an old man dies, a whole library of unwritten books is buried with him. Last week, Archbishop Philip Hannan passed away at the age of 98. I always respected him, not because of his title but for the man that he was. He was a compassionate man who always heard the cry of the poor. According to the people who knew him the best, he was a decisive leader who, after making a decision, moved on to the next issue.

Two years after being ordained, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Father Hannan joined the Army. He was a paratrooper known as the “Jumping Padre” with the famous 82nd Airborne and saw action in Normandy.

During his course of a 55-year career as a bishop and archbishop, he served in Washington, D.C., and while there he bonded with the Kennedys. After President Kennedy was killed, his wife chose Archbishop Hannan to deliver the president’s eulogy. He also delivered the eulogy of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968. Years later, he presided at Jacqueline Kennedy’s burial in Arlington Cemetery.

While in New Orleans, he welcomed thousands of Vietnamese families fleeing the fall of Saigon.

Sometimes he took a stand that was different. In 1985, he opposed a city ordinance giving equal rights to gay men and lesbians. A year later, he quietly opened Project Lazarus, a home for people suffering from AIDS, most of them gay men. He condemned the sin but had compassion for the sinners.

Archbishop Hannan was a champion of the poor. Under his leadership, he was active in programs such as Second Harvest, a food bank that distributes food to thousands of people each week. Another outreach was Christopher Homes Inc., a housing agency that provides 1,300 apartments for elderly and low-income residents. He also helped expand Catholic Charities, which

distributed $107.6 million in aid to the poor last fiscal year. He constantly heard the cry of the poor.

With all that, I think one of the hardest decisions he ever made was in October 1996. A week before Mary Landrieu faced Woody Jenkins in a heated political election to see who would succeed U.S. Sen. Bennett Johnson, Archbishop Hannan told the media if a person actually believed in Catholic doctrine, he didn’t see how they could avoid it being a sin if they voted for Landrieu or President Clinton because they favored abortion rights. Keep in mind, the Landrieus are one of the most influential families in New Orleans. He took a lot of criticism for his stance, but his convictions as an ambassador for Christ were more important than what people would say.

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