Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - As the nation remembers the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, New Orleans also remembers its beloved former Archbishop Philip Hannan, who was a friend and confidant of the Kennedys and delivered the eulogy at the slain president’s funeral.
An exhibit currently on display at the Old Ursuline Convent honoring Hannan’s life features a section on his relationship with the Kennedys and the funeral.
Included are a copy of Hannan’s prepared remarks for President Kennedy’s funeral, a prayer card from the funeral Mass, and a letter from First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, thanking Hannan for his help and support during the funeral preparations and Mass. A video screen plays a video of Hannan delivering JFK's eulogy.
Hannan, who died in 2011 at age 98, was an auxiliary bishop of Washington at the time of Kennedy’s presidency. His relationship with John F. Kennedy actually began in the late 1940s, when Hannan was serving as an assistant chancellor in Washington and Kennedy was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.
Kennedy’s religion, Roman Catholic, became a key point of contention during his campaign for president in 1960 and his relationship with Hannan, as a confidant and informal adviser, only grew during his time in the White House.
In his memoir, Hannan, who was named Archbishop of New Orleans in 1965, wrote that when he learned the President was shot, Hannan shared the sense of shock and disbelief felt by so many others. He was actually in Rome for meetings of the Second Vatican Council at the time.
"I was as numb and emotionally exhausted as every other American struggling to make sense of the stunningly brutal murder," Archbishop Hannan wrote in his 2010 memoir, The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots.
"My own grieving, however, would have to wait," he said. "First lady Jacqueline Kennedy had asked that I deliver the eulogy for her husband – and my friend."
Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston and a close friend of the Kennedys, who had been present at the President and First Lady’s wedding and the baptisms of their children and given the invocation at JFK’s inauguration, served as the principal celebrant for the Mass.
But the First Lady asked Hannan to deliver a eulogy. Church protocol called for a homily, rather than a formal eulogy or more personal remembrance, as would later become custom.
Hannan read some of Kennedy’s favorite Biblical passages, including part of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens, a time to be born, a time to die.” Hannan later said he could hear people sobbing in the congregation.
He concluded the eulogy with Kennedy's inaugural address: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own.”
Included in the Hannan exhibit is a December 1963 note from the First Lady, thanking Hannan for his eulogy.
"I have meant to write you for so long," she writes, "to thank you for the most moving way only you could have read those words at the funeral.... With my deep appreciation, Respectfully, Jacqueline Kennedy."
In his memoir, Hannan reprinted parts of other letters that Mrs. Kennedy wrote to him after the president’s death.
Hannan returned to Washington in 1968, to deliver the graveside eulogy at the funeral of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. In 1994, he offered graveside prayers at the interment of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Arlington National Cemetery.