Philip Hannan was archbishop of New Orleans from October of 1965 to December of 1988, roughly 23 years. There was a whole generation that knew of no other archbishop. However, the time since his retirement has also been 23 years. The archdiocese is now under the third bishop since he retired, so there is another generation that knew little about him.

He was a major player in the community, a classic “bricks and mortar” bishop who wanted to build a bigger church. One of the most moving tributes to him last week came from former Congressman Joseph Cao who recalled how Hannan, through his Associated Catholic Charities, took the lead in bringing dispersed Vietnamese into the community.

Other forums will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of his reign, but for now here are two stories, both having to do with Saints of different sorts. The first was sent to me by veteran newsman George Gurtner who is also a contributor to New Orleans Magazine:

Once, when the late Msgr. Elmo L. Romagosa was pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church on Bayou Road, he swore he saw the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his church cry. It didn't take long for the story to be picked up and before anybody knew it, news organizations had camped out in front of the Chancery of the Archdiocese on Walmsley Boulevard. The news crews were looking for a comment from Hannan. The traffic was so bad and congested that Hannan had to park his car near the then Ye Olde College Inn Restaurant on South Carrollton Avenue, cut across the tennis courts at Notre Dame Seminary and zig zag his way to the back door of the Chancery. One day, thoroughly worn out from the obstacle course to his office, Hannan, stopped in the hallway, looked out at the mob of newspeople on Walmsley and said, "Sometimes I wish Elmo's statue had cried in some other archdiocese." The flustered Archbishop then disappeared into his office.

Then there is the story about the football Saints and the controversy about using that name. I had interviewed the late Dave Dixon, the founder of the Superdome and the person most responsible for bringing the NFL to New Orleans, several times. He would always break out in a laugh when telling this story:

When Commissioner Pete Rozelle called to tell Dixon that the NFL was coming to New Orleans it was Dixon who suggested that the announcement be made on Nov. 1, All-Saints day. At the time the team did not have a name, or an owner, but Dixon pushed hard for the name “Saints.” Why? “Because I knew it would be free publicity every time the song was played.”

A local law firm urged one of its Houston customers to apply for ownership. Eventually the league accepted the application of the oil-rich Mecom family to own the team. Poppa Mecom put his 28-year-old son, John, in charge. It was the new owner who would have the final say-so over the team’s identity.

Mecom began to have second thoughts about the name. One evening a Mecom aide had dinner with Dixon to explain that his boss was concerned that the name might seem sacrilegious. Philip Hannan happened to be in the restaurant. Dixon apologetically interrupted the archbishop and posed the question. Would calling the team Saints be sacrilegious? “No,” the bishop answered; “besides, I have a premonition that this team is going to need all the help it can get.”

At that moment, as though baptized by the bishop, the New Orleans Saints came into being.

Hanna’s rule was during the last days before the local church, because of population shifts, began to rescind. If there are tears being shed at St. Rose de Lima now it is because the church is one of several that has been shut down as former parishes have been merged.

He was a pious man but, as a World War II Chaplain who parachuted into combat, he  also knew the front line. Gurtner tells this story of the awful day in 1973 when a sniper on the roof of the then Howard Johnson Hotel paralyzed the city:

Early on in the shooting and confusion of the Howard Johnson shootout, there was still a lot that was not known about that bunker atop the HoJo building: How many shooters? Were there hostages?…Through all the confusion Hannan stepped forward and offered himself as a hostage and mediator. His offer was not accepted.

Last week the news media were again gathered outside the Chancery office.