Phillip Hannan is not only widely known in New Orleans, but around the world for his close relationship with the Kennedy family. Hannan recounted his experience presiding over the late President John F. Kennedy's funeral mass to WGNO News before he died.
1963: The President of the United States has just been assassinated and 50-year-old Bishop Philip Hannan has been asked to deliver the eulogy at the president's funeral.
It's an unprecedented move. Protocol calls for the Archbishop of Washington to deliver the speech, but Hannan is hand-picked by JFK's widow, Jackie Kennedy.
"The Archbishop of Washington ought to be the speaker at the funeral and that's the way it is," Archbishop Hannan said. "She immediately broke in and said, 'No, I want Hannan.' "
Jackie wanted Hannan because of his close relationship with President Kennedy before his death.
"For a couple of years, I was his secret consultant," said Archbishop Hannan. "He had a deal with me. It began when he arrived in Washington."
The night before the funeral, the final arrangements were being made. When Hannan showed up to St. Matthew's Cathedral on that fateful morning, he was shocked to discover the White House had no list prepared of all the heads of state attending the mass.
Hannan was told to acknowledge each person before the eulogy, but the task was a difficult one without any names.
"This is certainly a shock!" Hannan remembered. "How could I ever be expected to identify kings and heads of state whom I'd never heard of or met?"
Hannan made it through the ordeal, by naming the people he recognized. The others were simply left out of his welcoming remarks.
Then, as part of his eulogy, Hannan repeated Kennedy's famous words: " 'Your old men should dream dreams, your young men should see visions, and there is no vision if the people perish.' He had said that just the night before."
Hannan says the entire service was a beautiful one. He was most impressed however, with Jackie Kennedy.
"She had decided that she wasn't going to give in to any emotions at all so she was absolutely motionless," recalled Hannan. And I'd say she behaved very well and not only did she behave very well, she kept all the chief guests quiet by her actions."
Jackie would give in to her emotions, however, about a month later when Hannan presided over an almost identical mass without the media or casket of the president.
"She was totally devastated," said Hannan of Mrs. Kennedy at the private service. "She was so broken up that as I extended my hand, she couldn't even pick up her hand to shake it, that's how badly she broke down, totally completely broke down."
Hannan would serve as a source of comfort for Jackie Kennedy and the family, not only in the months after the assassination, but for years to come.
Archbishop Hannan also presided over Jackie Kennedy's funeral in 1994.