Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 1 – Orleans Parish, Division 1 – Jefferson Parish, and Division 1 – St. Tammany Parish, gathered between October 3 and 5 to say an emotional but thankful farewell to The Most Reverend Philip M. Hannan, the former Archbishop of New Orleans. Hannan, the namesake of Division 1 in Orleans Parish, served as the 11th Archbishop of New Orleans from September 29, 1965, to December 6, 1988.
A native of Washington, D.C., Hannan studied at Catholic University and later at the North American College in Rome, where he witnessed the rise of fascism in both Italy and Germany. After his ordination in 1939, he served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington until the outbreak of the Second World War. He then served his country as a member of the United States Army Chaplain Corps. Assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, Hannan participated in numerous airborne operations, including Operation Market-Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. He returned home and later was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop, where he became a close confidante of the Kennedy family and delivered the sermon at President Kennedy’s funeral Mass.
When Hannan arrived in New Orleans in 1965, Hurricane Betsy had just ravaged New Orleans, and the Archbishop made his impact immediately felt by riding in a boat throughout the flooded Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish and offering comfort to all those afflicted.
Hannan also displayed the true Irish spirit of inclusion and diversity by continuing the desegregation of Catholic schools during the height of the Civil Rights era.
After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he personally arranged for the emigration of thousands of Catholic South Vietnamese refugees, who settled in New Orleans and quickly became an active and integral part of the community. His frequent outreach to Catholics and non-Catholics alike made him one of the most popular figures in New Orleans, and non-Catholics throughout the New Orleans area frequently referred to him as “their Archbishop” and were profuse in their praise.
The crowning achievement of Archbishop Hannan’s episcopate was the three-day visit of Pope John Paul II to New Orleans in 1987. He retired as Archbishop in 1988, but remained active in ministry, especially at his beloved WLAE-TV and FOCUS television syndicate.
Finally, Hannan — long a supporter of the New Orleans Saints NFL franchise and who often led the invocation for the team — was present when the Saints at long last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy upon winning the Super Bowl in 2010.
Archbishop Hannan passed away on September 29, 2011, at the age of 98 and on the 46th anniversary of his consecration as Archbishop of New Orleans. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond (himself ordained by Hannan) set aside several days to honor the Archbishop.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians mustered on Monday, October 3, to receive the casket carrying Archbishop Hannan’s remains. With the bagpipes playing “The Minstrel Boy” and appropriate spiritual tunes, the Hibernians stood at attention as their beloved leader and friend was carried into the Oratory of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. After three days of visitation at Notre Dame Seminary, where an estimated 50,000 people passed by to view the Archbishop, Hannan’s casket was transferred in a procession from Notre Dame to the St. Louis Cathedral.
For the procession, Archbishop Aymond arranged a special, five-mile parade along which more than 7,000 New Orleans area Catholic school students (all of whom were born after Archbishop Hannan was well into retirement) stood quietly as Hannan’s casket passed by in a special horse-drawn carriage. The Hibernians, bearing the AOH and Archbishop Hannan Division banners, stood beside the Vietnamese-American Community from Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish as the casket was placed in the black carriage. Leading the procession was the famous St. Augustine High School “Marching 100” Band (another testament to Hannan’s spirit of inclusion and diversity) followed by the Archbishop, Bishops, members of the clergy and seminarians. Members of Catholic Charities of New Orleans followed the clergy; and last, but certainly not least, came the Hibernians bringing up the rear. In three silent rows, led by their banner bearers, the Hibernians marched solemnly but proudly in honor of their deceased Brother and Archbishop who always embraced his Irish heritage.
At the conclusion of the five and a half mile route, the Hibernians marched slowly into Jackson Square to the front of the St. Louis Cathedral where several thousand adults and Catholic school students stood silently as the piper played “The Minstrel Boy” and “Danny Boy,” which was the Archbishop’s favorite Irish tune. Hannan’s casket was brought into the Cathedral, and again the Hibernians marched silently inside to pay their last respects. Upon conclusion of the processional ceremony, Archbishop Aymond, as well as former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Lindy Boggs and members of Hannan’s family thanked the Hibernians for adding such dignity and grace to the ceremony and helping people understand the great faith and spirit of the Irish as evidenced by the life of Archbishop Hannan.
For our part, the Hibernians were both honored and humbled to have played even a small part in offering a fitting tribute to such an esteemed friend and leader. One Hibernian remarked that while the events were certainly emotional, they were not occasions for sadness but thanksgiving. “Anyone like our Archbishop, who lived such a full and complete 98 years,” he said, “merits thanksgiving rather than sadness. I mourn the loss of a friend and mentor, but I celebrate a great life lived in the spirit.” The Ancient Order of Hibernians shares that sentiment and wish eternal rest and perpetual light upon a man who truly “uncovered the light of his Irish spirit” for all to see.