Archbishop Philip Hannan passed away last week at the age of 98, but his legacy will live on in St. Charles Parish for the vital healing role he played during and after the Luling Ferry Disaster.
Hannan happened to be nearby when the George Prince Ferry collided with a tanker in 1976. Seventy-seven people died in the crash and it is still the worst ferry disaster in U.S. history. Hannan rushed to the scene and set up a temporary morgue for the victims at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Norco.
“That’s the reason why we were able, from the very beginning, to assure the people that they are being well cared for and that everything was being done by the community to take care of them,” Hannan said at a 2009 memorial monument dedication to the those who perished in the crash and those who survived.
Royd Anderson, who wrote and directed a documentary on the ferry disaster, said that Hannan’s role went much further.
“He was the spiritual director to family and friends who lost loved ones,” Anderson said. “Archbishop Hannan stressed the importance of how he stayed with them, literally, until their shock subsided.
“Only then could they come to terms with the archbishop’s insistence that their loved ones had enough time to make an Act of Contrition before they died, even if they could not form any words; their minds were riveted and ready to meet their Creator and he’s certain the good Lord accepted them.”
Hannan also held a Mass of Resurrection for the victims at Norco’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church that Anderson said rejuvenated the congregation’s spiritual strength.
On Oct. 17, 2009, 33 years after the ferry disaster, a monument to the 77 victims and 18 survivors was dedicated at the East Bank Bridge Park. Hannan was a key speaker at the event and praised the St. Charles Parish community.
“I knew from my experience that it would make a tremendous difference in the lives of those that had lost their relatives and friends if the people all cooperated,” he said. “I’m very, very happy to tell you that I never saw a group of people more cooperative in a time of disaster than the people here in regards to those who lost their lives in the sinking of the ferry.
“It went through all generations…the young, elderly and so forth were very, very cooperative.”
Anderson interviewed Hannan for his documentary, “The Luling Ferry Disaster,” but he had actually met the archbishop much earlier in his life. Anderson and his brother, Mark, were named Altar Boys of the Year in 1988 and Hannan held a special Mass for them at St. Louis Cathedral. He also gave the brothers medals.
“The archbishop was royalty to us, very wise and kind…a spiritual beacon,” Anderson said. “It was a great honor to interview him years later for my documentary. Again, I felt like I was in the presence of royalty and I truly was. I’m fortunate, lucky and proud to have known him, and thankful to have shared some of the most memorable days of my life with him.
“I will miss him greatly.”