Our beloved Archbishop Hannan, a dear friend to me and to so many around the world, has gone home to the Lord after 98 years of service to God and country. His heroic life is told in his engaging autobiography published by Our Sunday Visitor, The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots, a fascinating book that I highly recommend.
Two days before his passing, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to say goodbye to the Archbishop due to the recent founding of the BDF Hannan Institute at the request of the Archbishop. In 2009, his friend Marilyn Quirk had sent him my way when he made it clear that he intended, at the spry age of only 96, to start his own national pro-life policy organization that was firmly grounded in both natural law and Catholic teaching. Marilyn informed the Archbishop that my law partner Nikolas Nikas and I had done just that in 2005 when we founded Bioethics Defense Fund (with our official launch date of Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, a memorable day to many). We were humbled and honored to be asked by the Archbishop to form the Hannan Institute within BDF as his legacy to educate and advocate, as he boldly did for decades, against the human rights violations of abortion and other life-destructive medical practices.
As I entered the Archbishop’s beautifully furnished rooms in the Chateau de Notre Dame Apartments, I thought back on several prior times that I had visited the Archbishop over the past few years when we were told he was near the end. His fighting spirit had always pulled him through against all odds, as he rose up again and again to proclaim the incarnate Truth in word and action. But this time, it was clear this would really be the last time that I’d have the honor and privilege to visit “The Archbishop.”
It was surreal to be able to kiss the head of a saint on the doorstep of heaven. When I told him that his friends at OSV and the Catholic Foundations of New Orleans and Phoenix had helped Nik and I to bring the BDF Hannan Institute to a Vatican medical conference and that Cardinal Stafford was so genuinely delighted to hear of our work with law and medical students in the name of his old friend Hannan, he perked up and tried to take his oxygen mask off. He could only say “Ok Ok Ok Ok.” He was clearly signaling his understanding and excitement. His eyes were closed and he was curled up comfortably in bed. I asked for his blessing on our work and all of our generous supporters, and he lifted up his shaking arm, and then took my hand and held it tight for so long. I asked him to pray for all of us here when he got to heaven, and to kiss all of those babies in whose memory we work. He squeezed my hand and wouldn’t let go as we sat together for quite a bit of time.
Like everyone here in New Orleans, I am so very proud of Archbishop Hannan and how he represented the best of our City and our Faith. Like everyone here in New Orleans, I am simultaneously sad at our loss yet joyful about his Homecoming parade where he certainly will be “in that Number . . . When the Saints go Marching In.” St. Archbishop Hannan, pray for us.