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Archbishop Hannan's funeral procession draws thousands of faithful

A crowd that included more than 7,000 Catholic school children paid their respects to Archbishop Philip Hannan today as a horse-drawn hearse carried the archbishop's body from Notre Dame Seminary to St. Louis Cathedral.

Young people sporting the various plaids and polo shirts of local elementary and high schools lined the five-mile route on a picture-perfect day, joining with their teachers, parents and residents of Mid-City to pay tribute to their beloved shepherd, who died Sept. 29 at age 98.



Celebratory atmosphere

Many of the faithful spread folding chairs and grasped rosaries for an event that was equal parts a parade-like celebration of life, and a solemn "thank you" for Archbishop Hannan's 46 years of ministry to the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Jesuit High dismissed its 1,400 students early so they could be present at the historic occasion – the first funeral procession of a New Orleans archbishop since the 1964 death of Archbishop Joseph Rummel.

To assure a good vantage point for all, the Jesuit students spread themselves along the South Carrollton Avenue neutral ground, forming a single line of khaki stretching from Banks Street to Cleveland Avenue.

As waning traffic down Carrollton signaled the approaching cortege, Jesuit’s chaplain, Father Don Saunders, led a recitation of the rosary over a P.A. system set up on the neutral ground. The high school's Marine Corps Jr. ROTC and Color Guard saluted the passing hearse as St. Augustine High's "Marching 100" band played the Jackson 5 song “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

“It’s an honor for us to be here,” said Jesuit Father Raymond Fitzgerald, Jesuit’s president, noting the procession was “a very fitting tribute to a man who was the spiritual leader of our community for many years."

"As we commend his soul to the Lord whom he served so well we join together as a community of faith reminded by the presence of God and the service of Jesus that unites us all,” Father Fitzgerald said.


Students receive 'Hannan 101'

In the days following Archbishop Hannan’s death, Jesuit students were immersed in Archbishop Hannan’s legacy of "putting himself in harm’s way to bring sacraments to servicemen while defending our liberty in the Second World War,” Father Fitzgerald said. The students also learned that Archbishop Hannan, before his death, was one of only two surviving bishops who had attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

The Jesuit teens were reminded that before Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Betsy was the worst disaster to hit New Orleans in modern times – an event that occurred just weeks before Archbishop’s Hannan’s 1965 installation. On a personal note, Father Fitzgerald, 53, said he was confirmed by Archbishop Hannan as an eighth grader living in the former St. Mathias Parish.

“Hurricane Betsy was his first experience of New Orleans,” Father Fitzgerald said. “Among us he was someone who came to be a pastor to people in need. This concern for the needy, concern for the poor, characterized his entire time as archbishop. Many of the things that we take for granted in terms of social services Archbishop Hannan began.”


The modest shepherd

While awaiting the procession, Margaret Fanning, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Uptown New Orleans, recalled attending a dinner about a dozen years ago at the old Hyatt Regency Hotel at which Archbishop Hannan was a guest of honor.

During the event, Fanning approached Archbishop Hannan to ask him why one of his biggest accolades – being honored by the German government for saving sacred vessels and artwork from Cologne Cathedral during World War II – was rarely, if ever, mentioned in public.

“His response to me was, ‘Oh, everybody did that,’” Fanning said. “For a country to honor one man is phenomenal. You know it had to be pretty good and pretty monumental for that to occur, yet he was so humble about the whole thing.”

After the dinner, Fanning ran into the archbishop again in the hotel's garage and was amazed to see the then-octogenarian driving himself. “He never had a chauffeur or anything,” she marveled.


Procession began at Notre Dame Seminary

Earlier, at Notre Dame Seminary, Archbishop Hannan's casket was placed into a black hearse drawn by four white horses. Some of the last to pay their respects to the archbishop as he lay in repose inside the seminary chapel were more than 300 students from the high school founded in his honor: Archbishop Hannan High.

Attendance at the event was not limited to Catholic schools. Along the procession route, members of the Color Guard at Warren Easton Charter High saluted the cortege outside their Canal Street campus. And, although located far from the procession route, Lusher Charter School flew its flag at half-staff.

Another poignant display of affection was erected outside a home on Bayou St. John, not far from a house in which the archbishop lived following his retirement. Above statues of St. Francis of Assisi and a fleur-de-lis-crested jockey was the following handwritten sign, crowned by an American flag: “Goodbye Hannan, Old Warrior!”

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .