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Abp. Hannan turned on charm for Vatican exhibit


It was five years in the making but Dominican Father Val McInnis, the director of the Vatican Pavilion at the 1984 World’s Fair, said the exhibit would have never come together without the influence and f

oresight of Archbishop Philip Hannan.

“Hannan is one of the few bishops in the U.S. at the time to have the inspiration and willingness to take on a project of this nature without a moment of hesitation,” Father McInnis said. “It was a great undertaking. Hannan never hesitated to do anything to clear the way. He was willing to make the necessary phone calls.”



Archbishop Hannan was the mover and shaker who arranged key meetings worldwide to secure works of art, Father McInnis said. Probably the most important face-to-face he arranged was a private audience in 1981 with Pope John Paul II in Rome.

 “Hannan is a very affable and gregarious man that everybody loves,” Father McInnis said of the meeting. “He showed his usual ability. We were one of the first ones to have a private audience with (the pope) after he had been shot in May.”

Father McInnis recalled the meeting with the pope as congenial. After Archbishop Hannan spent a few private minutes with the pope, the two New Orleanians regrouped and presented the fair exhibit theme – “Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer in Art: Ages, Images, and Impact on Evangelization in the World Today.” Father McGinnis said Pope John Paul smiled and said, “Well, that sounds familiar,’’ knowing it was a nod to his first encyclical “Jesus Christ the Redeemer.”

The pope told the duo that any work of art from the Vatican would be available as long as the Vatican Museum curators agreed. His official blessing for the Vatican Pavilion came shortly after the visit on Dec. 3, 1981.

“The pope almost came (to the exhibit),” Father McInnis said. “He was visiting Canada and he wanted to visit the Native Americans but the weather prevented that. He did say he would visit (New Orleans) soon, and he did in 1987.”

Three objects targeted

With approval in hand, the Vatican Pavilion committee – of which Father McInnis was a member – compiled a short wish list of art to best reflect the theme. Tops on the list were Caravaggio’s “Descent from the Cross”; Michelangelo’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue; and the Shroud of Turin. The Caravaggio was procured, and much effort went into procuring the other two items.

Loaded with an official letter from the former King of Italy, Archbishop Hannan and Father McInnis met with the Cardinal Archbishop of Turin to obtain the shroud. Fearful that the Italian government might seize the shroud if it ever left Turin, the Archbishop of Turin denied permission. Instead, a photographic exhibit of the shroud was created for use in New Orleans.

“We almost procured the Michelangelo statue (Cristo Resorto),” Father McInnis said. “We had gotten permission from the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva church community and the Dominican order that owns the statue.”

In this instance, Father McInnis said Archbishop Hannan again intervened with contacts, but at the last minute the president of Italy reneged on his permission for the statue’s exit from Italy, even though it was already packed and waiting on the steps of the Minerva church to be shipped. The story goes that it sat on the church steps for a month before it was moved.

“We got one of the three on the wish list, but we got a lot of other things,” Father McInnis said. “Archbishop Hannan was the prime mover of all of this. Without him, nothing would have been done.”

Wanting to have representation from Spain and France – the countries instrumental in founding Louisiana – Archbishop Hannan was able to secure Georges de la Tour’s “The Carpenter (St. Joseph) and the Christ Child” from The Louvre in Paris; a triptych high relief sculpture from the Musée de Paris; and art from the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris. A trip to Nice secured a chasuble designed by the artist Matisse.

From Spain came two El Greco masterpieces: “Jesus Christ, The Savior” and “St. Joseph and the Christ Child.”

Between 1981-84, Father McInnis estimates he traveled to Rome about 20 times, sometimes with Archbishop Hannan.

“He would leave me in Rome but was always very helpful,” adding that he arranged many special meetings “with key individuals who lent us art.”

Used his multiple contacts to acquire art

Knowing how well respected Archbishop Hannan was among other priests and bishops worldwide because of his righteous stance on war – having experienced World War II as a chaplain with the 82nd Airborne and vehemently opposing communism, nuclear war and injustice – and his work on the Second Vatican Council, Father McInnis urged Archbishop Hannan to call on his brother priests statewide (making them co-hosts) and nationwide to participate in the exhibit.

 “He’s always been a person at the Bishop’s Council to speak his mind,” Father McInnis said.

“He was always aware that the nuclear problem required delicate diplomacy. He saw the horrors of war and didn’t want to see a replication of that, but on the other hand, he wasn’t opposed to addressing the idea of conflict. He’s an indomitable spirit, and he’s deeply loved.”

From Cardinal John Krol in Philadelphia, the exhibit received Rodin’s “John the Baptist,” a statue Father McInnis thought was perfect for the entrance of the Vatican Pavilion.  Father McInnis said Archbishop Hannan was solely instrumental in securing this work.

A bronze replica of Ivan Mestrovic’s  “The Woman at the Well” at the University of Notre Dame was cast from original molds for the fair, by permission of Mestrovic’s widow, for the price of the casting (approximately $50,000). After the fair, it was moved to the entrance of Notre Dame Seminary, where it stands today.

From Marquette University: the Salvador Dali “Madonna of Port Lligat”; Caravaggio’s “Deposition of Christ”; and Guido Reni’s “St. Joseph and the Christ Child,” obtained from a private collector and which is “a gorgeous painting,” Father McInnis said.

Tapestry: The wow factor

Then there was a Fourth Century sarcophagus; Raphael’s painting of Jesus on the Cross with Mary and John; Raphael’s tapestry of the risen Christ from Brussels that “reduced visitors to tears”; and a 110-foot, three-tiered papal cross for the dome top of the Vatican Pavilion at the Louisiana World Exposition designed after the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

Artwork significant to New Orleans and the state also made its way in the exhibit. Probably the most significant was the monstrance from the 1938 Eucharistic Congress held in New Orleans. Many local Catholics contributed gold, silver, platinum and precious jewels and stones that were incorporated in the monstrance designed and manufactured by Bernard and Grunning Jewelers of New Orleans.

Father McInnis said working with Archbishop Hannan on the exhibit was a wonderful experience. Father McInnis thinks he was selected as director of the Treasures of the Vatican Exhibit of the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans due to his knowledge of art, having a doctorate in the history of art and aesthetics and his establishing the Judeo-Christian Studies Department at Tulane University. He said Archbishop Hannan trusted him and the committee to make good choices knowing how the art exhibit could reveal the mysteries of faith and evangelize.

“We saw an opportunity to deepen the awareness of the people of Louisiana and others as well of the many cultures that influenced the Judeo-Christian heritage and to renew wellsprings of faith for all those attending the 1984 exposition,” Father McInnis said.

Shroud photos included

In working with fellow priests, Archbishop Hannan was able to display works of art contributed by the co-hosting bishops and a photographic exhibit detailing the Pope’s travels worldwide called “The Pilgrim Pope” for the Louisiana Catholic Church Exhibition at the Pavilion, the free part of the exhibit. And a to-scale, photographic reproduction of the Shroud of Turin was a popular part of this exhibit.

To thank the more than 2,000 volunteers who worked the exhibit, Archbishop Hannan celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Dominic Church in New Orleans the Sunday after the fair closed, Father McInnis said. Archbishop Hannan remarked to those present: “It was wonderful to do the Vatican Pavilion, but once was enough.”

Being an active and visible part of the community from the time he arrived in New Orleans made Archbishop Hannan beloved to so many. Father McInnis said Archbishop Hannan was always the first person on the scene in a crisis, whether it was an airplane crash or social issues.

“I can remember when that plane crashed in Kenner, he was there administering the sacrament of the dying and the sick,” Father McInnis said. “He’s always been present at funerals of religious, much like other bishops.”

 So, when he began talking up the exhibit wherever he went, he had no trouble getting volunteers every step of the way.

“He was willing to share the idea with everybody,” Father McInnis said. “His enthusiasm captivated people.”

Broke even financially

Another stroke of genius by Archbishop Hannan was arranging for the pavilion to be an independent and separate financial entity from the fair. This allowed the archdiocese to charge a nominal admission fee for part of the exhibit to help defray costs.

“We were pretty much able to break even when the fair went bankrupt,” Father McInnis said.

Having already made his mark as an archbishop concerned with the welfare of the poor and elderly, Father McInnis still thinks the Vatican Exhibit stands as a high point of Archbishop Hannan’s career. Almost one million visitors went through the exhibit, and the pavilion won architectural awards for its design and contribution to the Louisiana World Exposition.

“He was very concerned about social justice issues and housing for the elderly, Father McInnis said. “But, he was not boxed in by those preoccupations. He was open to other ideas and most open to take on other ideas … It (the Vatican Exhibit) turned out to be one of the great success stories of the World’s Fair. I was delighted to be able to collaborate with him.”