Msgr. Doskey: He was always ‘about the people’
After touring those sections of New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines that had been swamped by Hurricane Betsy, the city’s newly arrived archbishop let his priests know it was no time for handwringing.
“Archbishop Hannan came in and he looked at the whole situation, and he wanted to be involved. He said, ‘We’ve got to do something; the church has to do something,’” recalled Msgr. Clinton Doskey, who was vice chancellor in charge of the Metropolitan Tribunal at the time of Archbishop Hannan’s arrival.
“He has a tremendous outlook that the church must be there to help the suffering – whether they’re Catholic or not Catholic,” Msgr. Doskey said. “His whole mentality was, ‘We’ve got to meet whatever need comes up; the church is for everyone. This was how Christ set the (church) up in the world: to take care of people, whatever their needs were.’ And he, as archbishop, was the representative of the Lord to try to help this area.”
Go to the power brokers
Like the hurricane that began their more than 40-year friendship, Msgr. Doskey, pastor emeritus at St. Pius X in New Orleans, said the lessons he learned from his old boss, mentor and friend Phil shook up his ideas on what it meant to be a parish priest.
For example, when the archdiocese couldn’t effect change on its own, Archbishop Hannan would encourage his priests to take their fledgling projects to the decision-makers in local, state and federal government.
“He would say, ‘The elderly have no place to go, so we’ve got to build them apartments. Now, where are we gonna get the money?’” Msgr. Doskey recalled. “He knew politics, top to bottom. When the Legislature got bogged down on anything, he invited (elected officials) up to the seminary. He was very good at resolving problems.”
Msgr. Doskey, who had been tapped by the archbishop to head up the Social Apostolate, recalls speaking directly with public officials to shore up support for the Supplemental Food and Infant Formula Program.
“He wanted us to be out there. ‘You get up there and meet with Congress. Meet with the City Council. Get up to Baton Rouge. We have to work with our civic leaders. We can accomplish so much together!’” Msgr. Doskey said, noting that the archbishop’s collaborative spirit was also seen in his enlistment of Protestant support for Catholic efforts such as the Archbishop’s Community Appeal.
“He had Catholic, non-Catholic together,” Msgr. Doskey said. “If you could accomplish this – getting the money we need to take care of the poor – you were at the table. He offered us so much on what we could do together.”
Archbishop Hannan would apply his “wide net” approach to the establishment of the Summer WITNESS program of neighborhood-based camps for low-income children, sending local priests, sisters and laypeople on recruitment trips to seminaries and convents in the Northeast and even enlisting the help of Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Richard Cushing.
“We had top-flight seminarians who came out of Boston – generous and wonderful,” Msgr. Doskey said, noting that the effort helped staff a year-round Summer Witness program and Social Apostolate branch on the grounds of St. Philip the Apostle Church in New Orleans’ Desire neighborhood.
Although the work environment would become more proactive and hands-on under the new archbishop, Msgr. Doskey said Archbishop Hannan’s administrative style was markedly calmer than that of his predecessor, Archbishop John Cody. The latter expected his administrators to be in the office at all hours in order to answer all inquiries within 24 hours of their receipt.
“(Archbishop Hannan) comes in the office (at the end of his) first day and says, ‘What are you still doing around here? Go home! We don’t stay that long in the office!’” Msgr. Doskey said. “He was the boss – always, always the boss – but at the same time, he was very relaxed as the boss,” Msgr. Doskey said, recalling that occasional barbeques were held to give Archbishop Hannan a chance “to take his coat off and just relax.”
Kept focus on people
During the racial flare-ups in New Orleans in the late 1960s, Archbishop Hannan encouraged his brother priests to keep their focus on helping the marginalized. Msgr. Doskey witnessed much of the racial discord firsthand as a young priest.
In May 1968, Msgr. Doskey, then assistant pastor of St. Francis de Sales, helped protect the parish plant when protesters attempted to break into the school to stage a rally, and helped defuse the situation by reminding the protesters that St. Francis de Sales was a racially mixed parish and its priests staunch supporters of integration.
In a later incident, when Msgr. Doskey was celebrating Mass as pastor of St. Philip the Apostle, a group of Black Panther militants disrupted the liturgy by grabbing the microphone. The church was also the target of a nighttime burglary of its statues, crucifixes and missals.
The most serious incident involved Msgr. Doskey’s nighttime abduction from St. Philip’s rectory, an ordeal that ended peacefully after a long car ride and a period of intense questioning.
“Archbishop Hannan said, ‘Look, I had to face Tiger tanks in World War II and we’ll face this, too, and everything straight on.’ He was undaunted,” Msgr. Doskey recalled. “When things were bubbling up at St. Francis de Sales, he said, ‘I want you to get out and walk the streets – just like the police walk the beat. If you find people gathered, go up and talk with them. Get out there. Try to bring peace in the area.’”
Msgr. Doskey believes one of the keys to his pal’s longevity was his consumption of three regular, daily meals.
“He was able to give and take, but he was still the disciplined, military person,” Msgr. Doskey said. “I remember when the doctors told him he could only have three ounces of meat. I said, ‘Archbishop, you gotta break (the rule) once in a while.’ But it was three ounces of meat – that was it.”
“When it came to people, he was very amenable, relaxed, compassionate,” Msgr. Doskey adds. “But when it came to himself, it was straight down the line. You had to do this. You had to do that. It was a personal, inside obedience that he had.”
That obedience was on display when Archbishop Hannan turned down an invitation to attend a D-Day event in Normandy, France, in order to fulfill a promise he had made to one of his priests.
“He told them, ‘no,’ he couldn’t go, because he wanted to preach for my Golden Jubilee Mass,” Msgr. Doskey said, recalling one invitation the archbishop was able to accept: the 2004 dedication of the National WWII Monument in Washington, D.C.
“(The organizing committee) called to ask if he wanted them to provide a wheelchair,” Msgr. Doskey said. “He was a little ruffled by that.”
In the early 2000s, newly vacated from his home on Bayou St. John, Archbishop Hannan reunited with his “old friend Clint” by taking up residence in the St. Pius X rectory. He lived there for three years until illness forced his relocation to the Northshore.
At St. Pius, Hannan adopted the role of dishwasher, gently reminding anyone who tried to help that it was his job.
“He was cleaning the pots and everything,” Msgr. Doskey chuckled. “He’s a wonderful person as far as not standing on ceremony. He was the archbishop, but he made himself subservient to be part of the house, part of the rectory. He took the Masses just like everyone else,” he said, noting that “the people hung onto every word” when the archbishop was celebrant.
“They knew that when he talked, he had experienced everything he talked about,” Msgr. Doskey said. “They knew it was true and he put it across in a way that they understood.”
Even as he advanced in age, Archbishop Hannan was “constantly looking to the future,” devising new programs that would require years to bear fruit.
“Here he is, well into his 90s, thinking about something 10 years down the line,” Msgr. Doskey said. “He did not lose a consciousness of what had been accomplished (in the past), but at the same time his vision was a vision of the future.”
Although part of a close-knit Washington family, Archbishop Hannan considered himself to be a New Orleanian, celebrating many a Mardi Gras on St. Charles Avenue and always reminding his brother priests that part of their pastoral mandate was getting “caught up in the life of the people.”
“He knew I was chaplain of Endymion and the Touchdown Club,” Msgr. Doskey said. “He was involved in all types of things like that, too. He loved football. He loved the Saints. He was part of the life of the people.”
“You didn’t sit down and do nothing; you got involved,” Msgr. Doskey said. “He inspired you and he kept you going. He had that vision, that compassion, and that love of the people, motivated by his love of God. He was an embodiment of Jesus in this area.”