NEW ORLEANS - The archivist for the Archdiocese of New Orleans says she could fill several rooms - floor to ceiling - with the photographs, scrapbooks and memorabilia that Archbishop Philip Hannan saved during his extraordinary life.
Now the public can see some of that collection in a new exhibit opening this weekend at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum in the French Quarter.
On Wednesday, organizers gave reporters a preview of the exhibit at the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center (housed inside the Convent on Chartres Street), titled “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: The Life & Ministry of Archbishop Philip M. Hannan.”
When Hannan died two years ago at 98, New Orleanians heard the stories of his impact, as a bishop, a confidant to the Kennedy family, a combat chaplain during World War II, and church leader. It turns out, the beloved priest was also something of a pack rat.
For the new exhibit, archivists worked closely with Hannan's family to organize some of the 10,000 pieces of paper and memorabilia he kept during his lifetime. It will now be donated to the Archdiocese to be catalogued and preserved.
“He had so many things. I mean, he has his passport, his military ID, his uniform, his boots, his escape map in case they ended up behind enemy lines. All of those things you will see here,” said Dr. Emilie “Lee” Leumas, archivist for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and chief curator of the exhibit.
The section of the exhibit dealing with Hannan's service during World War II with the 82nd Airborne is among the most meaningful, including letters he wrote home to his family from the front lines and even his own words of reflection, from his autobiography.
"He looked down at his bloody boots and he said, 'This is what I was made for. I was ordained to do this,’” recounted Barbara Turner Windhorst, board president of the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center.
Windhorst was one of many at an exhibit preview on Wednesday who shared personal memories of the archbishop. She and her husband, former state lawmaker Fritz Windhorst, were married by the Archbishop at Notre Dame Seminary.
“He's so much of a presence to me. It's not like he can possibly be gone because of all that he did,” Barbara Windhorst said.
Organizers have used modern technology to enhance Hannan's collection. In the World War II section of the exhibit, visitors can swipe the screen of an iPad to read the Archbishop's handwritten notes in his chaplain's notebook, including instructions on how to bury soldiers and handle other military duties. Another iPad features some of the 190 letters he wrote home to family members.
Other exhibits showcase Hannan's close relationship with the Kennedys, when he was a bishop in his native Washington D.C., including letters to and from the president and First Lady and video of the Archbishop delivering President John F. Kennedy’s eulogy in November 1963.
There are lighter moments too, like his original Prayer for the Saints, delivered at the football team’s first game in 1967. And throughout the exhibit are dozens of photographs chronicling an extraordinary life.
“There's so much life in all of his photographs, you get a real feeling that you know him,” said Leumas. “Just seeing how many people he knew, from the celebrities to the presidents, the popes and in each one of them he's so meticulously documenting on the back who they are, when and where it was taken."
What's on display at the museum is just a fraction of what will now be catalogued as part of the Archdiocesan archives, for researchers studying a man who is remembered as a priest for the people.
“I believe Archbishop Hannan was, as Pope Francis today speaks of a bishop who has to be a person who loves his people, a person who is willing to not only to be with the people, but for the people and work alongside the people,” said Very Rev. Philip Landry, rector of St. Louis Cathedral and the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center.
The exhibit opens Saturday, Oct. 5 and runs through May 26, 2014 at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum, 1100 Chartres Street. The exhibit will be open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. General admission is $10 ($9 for seniors; $5 for students). Click here for more information.