Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Archbishop Hannan and the New Orleans Saints

This is a great story from NOLA.com! God bless Archbishop Hannan and God bless our Championship Saints!

When the New Orleans Saints go marching into Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, retired Archbishop Philip M. Hannan will be in that number. He'll watch the Super Bowl game with owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle.

Retired Archbishop Philip Hannan will be with the New Orleans Saints when they play at the Super Bowl in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 7.

"I can't miss it, " he said.

Hannan, 96, is a frequent guest of the Bensons at Saints games and at the Mass that's held before every game. He's been cheering for the Saints with the owner since Benson bought the team 25 years ago.

Although Hannan suffered a stroke at the end of October, he didn't let that keep him from attending the game against New England a month later, when the Saints beat the Patriots 38-17 and convinced him this might be the season he'd been hoping for since 1967.

He was thrilled to be in the Bensons' suite for the NFC championship win against the Minnesota Vikings, too.
"That was close, " he said. "I was nervous."

Hannan was too excited to sleep when he got back to his home in Covington that night, so he asked Kent Bossier, his caregiver, to replay the end of the game for him.

"The achbishop knew I had TiVo-ed it, and he said, 'I want to watch the overtime again, '" Bossier said. "He didn't go to bed until 1:15."

Former President George H.W. Bush also was a guest of Benson at that game, and during a call Hannan didn't like, he shouted in Bossier's ear, "Can't we petition the president in regard to the officiating?"

Bossier wasn't surprised to hear Hannan's passionate response to what he deemed a bad call. The archbishop has been a die-hard Saints fan since New Orleans landed the NFL team.

The franchise was awarded to New Orleans on All Saints Day -- Nov. 1, 1966 -- and before original owner John Mecon named the team, he called Hannan and asked if he or his Catholic flock would have any objection to calling them the New Orleans Saints.

The archbishop gave Mecom his blessing, but reminded him, "Most of our saints were martyrs."

Hannan, who was appointed the 11th archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1965, was thrilled when the city got the professional team. He saw it as a way to help the area recover from Hurricane Betsy and bring people together at the dawn of integration in Louisiana.

He composed a Prayer for the Saints, which he read at the Saints and Sinners booster club banquet in 1968.

It included these prophetic words: "Grant to our fans perseverance in their devotion and unlimited lung power, tempered with a sense of charity to all, including the referees."

OK, maybe that part about the charity to referees didn't always work out, but the perseverance and unlimited lung power has been a given for the Saints' long-suffering fans.

When Hannan retired in 1988, he stayed on in the New Orleans area. He didn't even leave when Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on southeast Louisiana in 2005.

At 92, he opted to stay in old Metairie at the headquarters of Focus, the small nonprofit Catholic television station he founded.
"He was planning to fend off looters with a club, " Bossier said.

After three days with no electricity and no looters, Hannan got in his car and drove acoss the Causeway. He ran out of gas in Mandeville and hitchhiked to St. Joseph Abbey north of Covington.

"In the following weeks, he traveling around with (St. Tammany Sheriff) Jack Strain giving people pep talks, " Bossier said.

In March, Hannan's memoir, "The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: From Combat to Camelot to Katrina" will be published. The collection of stories will chronicle his long life, from becoming a young Catholic priest in Rome and a military chaplain and paratrooper during World War II, to serving as an adviser to President John F. Kennedy and taking part in the Second Vatican Council, to his more than four decades as a spiritual leader in southeast Louisiana.

On Sunday, Hannan will add another chapter to his life story: watching his beloved New Orleans Saints play in their first Super Bowl.

"Because of the excellence of the people on the team, both on the field and off, I think we have a very good chance to win, " he said, smiling at the thought.

Hannan ended his 1968 Prayer for the Saints with this entreaty:

"May the 'Saints Come Marching In'" be a victory march for all, now and in eternity.'"

It seems like it has already been an eternity since he wrote those words. But now is almost here.

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