Archbishop Hannan founded and secured funding for many programs of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans beginning in the earliest days of his assignment in New Orleans. During a walk through the Desire Housing Project in late 1965, Archbishop Hannan was inspired to create the first Summer Witness camp, which ran for ten weeks during the summer of 1966.
The Archbishop realized there were no recreational or educational opportunities for African American children and the best and biggest public swimming pools in the city were effectively closed to them. Despite grumbling from some members of the white community who said he had gone too far in helping mostly non-Catholic black children, Archbishop Hannan opened the Olympic-sized swimming pool at Notre Dame Seminary to his Summer Witness kids. That practice continues to the present day. Thousands of Catholic Charities Summer Witness campers use the seminary pool each summer. During those early years, Summer Witness enrolled 2,400 children in camp and assisted 5,600 with summer feeding programs and swimming.
Archbishop Hannan created the Social Apostolate in 1966 with ten programs. Two years later he opened six year-round community centers that operated with the philosophy of encouraging self-help and giving people the tools they need to improve their lives.
Archbishop Hannan’s Social Apostolate merged with Catholic Charities in 2003 to effectively combine and expand the efforts of the two organizations to better serve the poor in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The Archbishop’s Community Appeal was started in 1966, when the new Archbishop encountered Alden J. “Doc” Laborde in the hallway at the Chancery and told him about his ambitious plans for the poor. Doc wrote him a $25,000 check on the spot and the ACA was born. The ACA continues to this day to raise money to fund the work of Catholic Charities. This year’s campaign goal is $1.75 million.
In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War, Archbishop Hannan invited 6,500 refugees to settle in New Orleans “because it was the right thing to do.” He recruited a young Vietnamese priest from Fort Chaffee to minister to them and engaged Catholic Charities in helping them establish a foothold in their new home. From 1975–1979, 10,000 Vietnamese immigrants were settled in New Orleans by Archbishop Hannan and Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities continues to serve the immigrant and refugee population through several programs: Refugee and Anti-Trafficking Services, Hispanic Apostolate Community Services and Immigration Services. The Catholic Charities Oil Spill Program has served the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East as well as Croatian, Thai, Cambodian and Laotian fisherman in Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Lafitte.
Programs of Catholic Charities founded by Archbishop Hannan or started with his blessing and encouragement include:
- Summer Witness
- Food for Families/Food for Seniors
- Parish and Community Services
- ACCESS Pregnancy and Referral Centers
- Early Childhood Education (Head Start Centers)
- Refugee Services
- Domestic Violence Services
- Padua Pediatric Program and Padua Community Based Services
- Counseling Solutions
We quote from the closing passage of his book, The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots:
“The ultimate and purest example of love comes from God. Throughout my priestly ministry I have tried to remember to let the pure love of God flow through me to others. I have tried to cultivate that love in others in their darkest hours. In the end, all that matters is love.”
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans is an umbrella agency with 47 programs and two affiliated ministries delivering health and human services to the poor and vulnerable. Catholic Charities services are rooted in the eight civil parishes of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, with food and nutrition services benefitting the entire state of Louisiana. Catholic Charities serves the homeless, hungry, the elderly, at-risk youth, pregnant women, individuals with developmental delays, and many more. For more information, please visit www.ccano.org.