Archbishop Philip Hannan’s colorful life displayed
It is fitting, perhaps, that the archbishop who was larger than life will have an exhibit that might burst the centuries-old seams of the Old Ursuline Convent.
The abundant life of Archbishop Philip Matthew Hannan, who served for 23 years as archbishop of New Orleans and was well-known for his WWII service as a paratroop chaplain, counsel to a president, social service ministry and defense of the unborn, will be on display Oct. 5 through May 26, 2014, at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum in the French Quarter.
The exhibit, sponsored by the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center, will offer many items from Archbishop Hannan’s personal collection never before seen by the public, said archdiocesan archivist Dr. Emilie (Lee) Leumas, who is curator of the museum. Selecting which items to display was the toughest job for her and her staff.
“There was just so much material,” Leumas said. “It ranged from things he had since his childhood all the way through his 98 years of life.”
100th anniversary of his birth
This is the 100th anniversary of Archbishop Hannan’s birth. When he died on Sept. 29, 2011, his family knew he had items stored in many different places around the archdiocese, but they were unaware he had left photographs and other items in the rectory at St. Pius X Parish in New Orleans, where he lived for several years in his retirement.
The family turned to Leumas for advice on what to do with the material so that the public might get a glimpse of his varied accomplishments. Some materials focused on his military service with the 82nd Airborne, some on his relationships with President John Kennedy and his widow Jacqueline, and some on his ministry in New Orleans.
At first, the thought was that the personal items would be split up and given to entities such as the WWII Museum, The Catholic University of America, the John Carroll Society or the Kennedy Library. Jerry Hannan, who lives in Maryland and is the last surviving sibling of Archbishop Hannan, decided to donate the items to the archdiocese.
Keep material together
“In order to tell the entire story of that person, you needed to not separate them, because then you might lose the person,” Leumas said. “The family thought it was best for it all to go to the archdiocese so that we could preserve it in its entirety and tell his story. That’s when we asked if we could do the exhibit, and the family said, ‘Absolutely.’ They were ecstatic that we could tell his story.”
“Our family is delighted that the archdiocese would present such a comprehensive portrait of the man we remember as a loving brother and uncle but who also embraced the people of New Orleans and made them his family,” said Peggy Hannan Laramie, the archbishop’s niece. “Archbishop Aymond and Lee Leumas and her staff should be commended for all of the thought and love they’ve put into capturing a cradle-to-grave look at Archbishop Hannan. Hopefully, the exhibit will inspire other people to see how the challenges they face in their lives can help them express their faith in support of others.”
Enter at St. Mary Church
Patrons will enter the exhibit through St. Mary Church at 1116 Chartres St., where they will see a video of Archbishop Gregory Aymond and a video of Archbishop Hannan talking about his life.
A side chapel – the Shrine of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem – will house some of the ornate vestments Archbishop Hannan wore. A military room will tell the story of his paratroop chaplain’s service during WWII, including the liberation of concentration camps in 1945. A silk “escape map” – to be used if captured by the enemy – will be on display as well as life-sized wall murals. The room will include his military Mass kit.
“The only thing we don’t have is his parachute,” Leumas said, smiling. “He kept everything else.”
Two interactive iPads have scanned copies of the archbishop’s Army field manual and the 600 letters he wrote during the war, which can be flipped through with the brush of a finger.
“We’ll also have a QR code on the iPad so that when you leave the exhibit, you can read the documents in their entirety at your leisure,” Leumas said.
WWII photos emotional
Among the many wall-sized murals is a stark black-and-white photograph of then-Father Hannan looking down at the bodies of prisoners who died in captivity. The mural is placed on the far wall of a room closed off with an iron gate and a cross.
“It has a chilling effect on you,” Leumas said.
There also are pictures of Archbishop Hannan with presidents, popes and celebrities. A large video screen in the social ministries room will play a video of him delivering the eulogy for President Kennedy on Nov. 25, 1963, as auxiliary bishop of Washington. His personally typed eulogy, including additional handwritten notes, will be shown. There are also personal notes to and from Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of her husband.
Famous 1967 Saints’ prayer
Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle are the honorary chairs of the exhibit, and they will be happy to see a large display of the prayer Archbishop Hannan recited on the field in 1967 before the first game in franchise history.
“The archbishop was smart enough to get the prayer copyrighted,” Leumas said. “Sports Illustrated wanted to give him a dollar for the copyright, but he copyrighted it himself and gave it to the archdiocese.”
Posters bearing that prayer will be available for purchase. General admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $5 for students. Student and group tours are available. For more information, go to www.oldursulineconvent.org.
Sponsorships and individual tickets are still available for the Exhibition Preview Gala on Oct. 4 at the Old Ursuline Convent. The menu will consist of some of Archbishop Hannan’s favorite foods and is provided by Lisa Tenet of the Bistreaux at the Bank. Music and entertainment will be by the Pfister Sisters. For more information or to purchase tickets go to www.stlouiscathedral.org or call 529-3040.