Burial for former archbishop who gave JFK's Eulogy

October 7, 2011 - 12:20 AM
Archbishop Hannan Funeral

Archbishop Gregory Aymond, second left, walks past the casket of retired Archbishop Phillip Hannan, the 11th Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, during the opening procession of his Funeral Mass, inside St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More than 1,000 mourners thronged a funeral in a New Orleans cathedral shrouded in black crepe Thursday for its beloved former archbishop Philip Hannan, who had delivered the graveside eulogies after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.

A horse-drawn hearse carried the remains of the 98-year-old Catholic clergyman on a 4 and ½ mile route through New Orleans into the French Quarter district where venerable St. Louis Cathedral was adorned with huge black bows and sprays of red-and-white flowers for the funeral attended by numerous VIPs. Among those present was Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The 98-year-old archbishop, whose close ties to the Kennedy clan dated to the 1940s, died peacefully before dawn on Sept. 29. He had been in declining health recently.

When President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, widow Jacqueline asked Hannan to deliver the eulogy because of his longstanding friendship with the president. Hannan also officiated at a quiet reburial of two Kennedy infants in 1964 so their bodies could be near their father's in Arlington National Cemetery. And in 1968, Hannan traveled again from New Orleans to deliver the graveside eulogy for Sen. Robert. F. Kennedy after he was assassinated.

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died of cancer in 1994, Hannan was again at Arlington to preside at a brief service before her burial.

Thousands viewed Hannan's body at New Orleans Notre Dame Seminary for three days starting Monday and more lined the route the hearse took to the cathedral. Another 300 seats had to be set up in the grassy park outside where tourists milled about in the French Quarter, a popular attraction. Hannan was the most active of the city's archbishops for his 23 years in that position and he remained active during his retirement.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and others from politics, the echelons of the Roman Catholic church and even professional sports were on hand. Among the honorary pall bearers were former U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Xavier University president Norman C. Francis.

Hannan was the 11th archbishop in New Orleans history, combining conservative politics with generous service to the poor. When he turned 75 and had to retire as archbishop, he became president of a public television station he founded.

Current Archbishop Gregory Aymond remembered jokingly when he was installed two years ago that he noted that New Orleans had four living archbishops, "and we all know who's boss."

Aymond also recalled Hannan's love of New Orleans' long-suffering NFL football team, the Saints.

"He loved the saints in heaven and the Saints in New Orleans," Aymond quipped.

Aymond led the celebration of Mass and delivered the eulogy. Co-celebrants included 18 bishops and 300 priests.

Members of the 82nd Airborne, the brigade Hannan served with during World War II, provided the Honor guard. After the service, flags were dipped and a bugler played Taps. Hannan's casket was then carried by priests to the side of the altar and lowered into a tomb built under it.

Judi Verdin, a 54-year-old Louisiana resident, said Hannan performed her confirmation ceremony years ago and she was among many saddened by his passing.

"He was the pope of New Orleans, a wonderful man that we loved dearly," she said.