Exhibit showcases life of New Orleans archbishop

  • Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 12:01 a.m.
AP Photo/The Times-Picayune, Michael DeMocker
In this Sept. 26, 2013 photo, Archbishop Hannan’s combat boots are on display at the exhibit “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: The Life & Ministry of Archbishop Philip Hannan” at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum in New Orleans.
AP Photo/The Times-Picayune, Michael DeMocker In this Sept. 26, 2013 photo, Archbishop Hannan’s combat boots are on display at the exhibit “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: The Life & Ministry of Archbishop Philip Hannan” at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS — In his long life, Philip Matthew Hannan acquired many titles: Priest. Chaplain. The jumping padre. Bishop. Archbishop of New Orleans. Television talk-show host.

The archdiocesan archivist added one more: “The man was a pack rat,” said Emilie Gagnet Leumas. “How he got everything home is a wonder to me.”

She’s not complaining. Because Hannan apparently hung on to everything he ever received, Leumas had no shortage of material when she arranged an exhibit celebrating the life and legacy of the former archbishop, who died in September 2011 at age 98.

The scope of Hannan’s trove, which includes his baptismal certificate, letters from the Kennedy family and the silk map he carried in Europe during World War II, surprised even his family, said Peggy Laramie, a niece. “It was an amazing collection,” she said.

“The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: The Life & Ministry of Archbishop Philip Hannan,” a project of the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center, opened to the public Oct. 5 at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum at Chartres and Ursulines streets.

The exhibit, which features material from the National World War II Museum and Hannan’s family, will be on view through May 26.

The combat boots are there, along with the uniform Hannan wore when as a chaplain for the 82nd Airborne Division, and the kit he used when he celebrated Mass in the field, sometimes using a Jeep hood as an altar.

Visitors can use iPads to flip through the 600 letters Hannan wrote to his family as well as the manual he received when he became a chaplain. A video shows him delivering the eulogy at John F. Kennedy’s funeral.

A procession of the colorful poncho-like outer vestments called chasubles hangs in the hall, just a stroll away from a gallery of pictures of Hannan with friends such as Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Hale and Lindy Boggs, Cicely Tyson and former Presidents Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

POPES AND PRAYERS

“The man knew everyone,” Leumas said as she breezed past the photos toward a room near the end of the hall. In that room are more photographs, including Hannan with the four popes he knew – John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI – and a one-of-a-kind picture of Hannan with his successors – Francis Schulte, Alfred Hughes and Gregory Aymond – at Aymond’s installation.

In a room across the hall, a focal point is Hannan’s prayer for the Saints, an elaborate display written on parchment in Gothic type. However, the prayer isn’t for the men and women of faith but for the men in black and gold.

“Grant our Saints an increase of faith and strength,” he wrote, “so that they will not only overcome the Lions, but also the Bears, the Rams, the Giants and even those awesome people in Green Bay. . . .

“Grant to our fans a perseverance in their devotion and unlimited lung power, tempered with a sense of charity to all, including the referees.”

Copies of the New Orleans Saints prayer, are be on sale: $1 for a postcard and $25 for a poster version, archdiocesan spokeswoman Anna Toujas said.

Hannan “loved New Orleans, and New Orleans loved him right back,” said Laramie, who was the Hannan family’s liaison for the exhibit.

Though frail, Hannan went to Miami in February 2010 for Super Bowl XLIV, where he sat in team owner Tom Benson’s box and watched the Saints defeat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. Writing in his memoir, Hannan described the victory as “a metaphor for everything New Orleans has been through.”

“Even in our darkest hour, we kept the faith that we could overcome anything, and we did!” he wrote. “I will be able to say these words: The Saints have come marching in! Who dat? We dat!”

This quotation from Hannan’s autobiography, “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: Memoir of An Extraordinary Life,” is one of several appearing on walls in the exhibit rooms.

One excerpt accompanies a picture of Hannan carrying an emaciated man who had been an inmate at the Woebbelin concentration camp in Germany: “Never in my life had I experienced, nor will I ever again, such an incomprehensible barbaric insult to the human spirit.”

‘THIS IS WHAT I WAS ORDAINED FOR’

Hannan applied to be a chaplain during World War II and was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. At one point, his clothing caked with blood, he wrote in his memoir that this insight came to him: “This is what I was ordained for. May God give me the grace to do what I should.”

After the war, Hannan returned to Washington, his hometown. He was named its auxiliary bishop in 1956.

During this phase of his ministry, he befriended John F. Kennedy when he was a senator from Massachusetts. The friendship continued after Kennedy was elected president, Leumas said, and he helped Caroline Kennedy prepare for her first Communion.

After the young president was assassinated, Hannan was asked to speak at his funeral. A thank-you note from his widow – one of several letters from Jacqueline Kennedy that Hannan received – is in the exhibit.

At that point, Hannan was dividing his time between Washington and the Vatican, where he was part of the U.S. delegation to the Second Vatican Council. Because everything was in Latin – his credentials are on view – Hannan was put in charge of ensuring that the English translations were accurate, Leumas said.

In the fall of 1965, shortly after Hurricane Betsy struck, Pope Paul VI named him New Orleans’ archbishop.

HIS IMPACT ON NEW ORLEANS

During his 23-year tenure, Hannan presided over a breathtaking expansion of the church’s social ministry, making commitments to poor people, the elderly and the Hispanic apostolate. He opened the Notre Dame Seminary pool to African-Americans, and he changed New Orleans’ demographics forever when he let Vietnamese refugees know they would be welcomed in New Orleans after Saigon fell in April 1975; thousands came.

What he did was more than just lip service. One of the items on display is the apron from the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the organization dedicated to helping people in need, when he served food at a soup kitchen.

“He wanted to make sure there was an ecumenical approach to ministry,” Laramie said. “If you needed a place to live or clothing or medicine, it didn’t matter whether you were a Catholic. You needed help.”

At the other end of the spectrum is one of the gold napkin rings, bearing the papal coat of arms and the archdiocesan crest, that was used when Pope John Paul II spent the night at Hannan’s home during the pope’s visit to New Orleans in September 1987.

Hannan officially retired a year later but stayed active, continuing to appear on WLAE-TV, the church-affiliated PBS station.

“A friend of mine said he was almost a Forrest Gump,” Leumas said. “You think, oh, no, he really didn’t do that, but, yes, he did.”

The exhibit has “something for everyone,” Laramie said. “No matter what you’re looking for, it’s there. My fondest hope is that everyone who visits the exhibit will come away inspired to do a little bit better for somebody else.”

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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