Hannan’s life a lesson for us

T’bonne’s westside expansion progresses for traffic
October 11, 2011
Robert Paul Bourg
October 13, 2011
T’bonne’s westside expansion progresses for traffic
October 11, 2011
Robert Paul Bourg
October 13, 2011

I would be remiss if I did not write a column about the death of Archbishop Philip M. Hannan who was buried last week.


Until his death, there were four Archbishops in New Orleans, three retired and the present Archbishop Gregory Aymond. When people talked about “the” Archbishop,” they were referring to Hannan. The turn out for his funeral and wake services demonstrated how much he meant to so many people.


Archbishop Hannan came to New Orleans in October 1965. The Archdiocese of New Orleans included the territory that is now the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. Archbishop Hannan assigned me to my first pastorate at St. Thomas Aquinas Community on the Nicholls State University campus. I was chaplain for 11 years, and stayed there even after the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese was established in 1977.

Archbishop Hannan was an innovator who spearheaded the visits of Pope John Paul II (1987) and Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1984) to New Orleans, and brought Michelangelo’s Pieta and other works of art to the Vatican Pavilion at the New Orleans World Fair (1984). He was a prolific writer for the Catholic newspaper, The Clarion Herald, and authored “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: From Combat to Camelot to Katrina.”


Every person comes into the world with a “song to sing” and “a message to deliver.” What can we learn from Archbishop Hannan’s life? I have three suggestions.


First, although Archbishop Hannan came from Washington, D.C., where he was a friend of the Kennedy family and other prominent figures; he let go of his former life and identified with the people of southeast Louisiana. Upon his arrival in New Orleans, he immediately set out to promote recovery from the severe destruction of Hurricane Betsy.

He was compassionate and accessible, willing to help in any disaster that threatened our region. When floods threatened New Orleans, he helped place sandbags on the levee. When the city experienced a blood shortage, we saw the Archbishop with his sleeves rolled up giving blood. He was “down to earth” and treated everyone with dignity.

We will be judged not by the people we knew or the positions we held in life, but by how much we loved. Love is wanting and doing what is best for another person. Everyone is made in the image and likeness of God and we should see God’s image in each person even if they do not see it in themselves.

The second lesson: Archbishop Hannan cared for the poor and the underprivileged. He started the summer witness program in the ’60s when the area was going through racial tension. When many community pools were closed to minorities by those who resisted integration, Hannan opened the seminary pool to everyone. He also established the Christopher Homes to provide housing for the needy, a social outreach program to distribute food for the poor and recreational opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

Jesus’ followers should advocate for the poor. In reducing our budget deficit, we should not put this burden on the backs of the poor and disabled.

Third lesson: Archbishop Hannan was an example to all of us in retirement. When he retired in 1988, he didn’t look for a rocking chair. He founded a television station, wrote, gave talks and kept busy. He used his gifts and talents in many different ways.

Retirement is not the end of life. It is opportunity to use our God-given gifts in different ways. When our time comes to meet the Lord, may the same scripture verse apply to us as to Archbishop Hannan, “Blessed are those who have died in the Lord; let them rest from their labors for their good deeds go with them” (Rev. 14:13).