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HANNAN, MICHAEL, Roman Catholic priest and archbishop; b. 20 July 1821 at Kilmallock, County Limerick (Republic of Ireland), son of James Hannan and Mary Carroll; d. 17 April 1882 at Halifax, N. S.
Michael Hannan was educated at Kilmallock and Kilfinnane in County Limerick and began the study of Latin and Greek at a very young age. In 1840 he came to Halifax where he finished his philosophical and theological studies at St Mary’s College, while teaching classics to the younger students. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop William Walsh* on 27 April 1845 and was appointed parish priest at Windsor, N.S. The following year he took up duties as a parish priest in Bermuda, which at that time came under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Halifax, before returning to St Mary’s Cathedral in Halifax in 1847.
In the early 1860s Hannan first began serving as vicar-general of the archdiocese of Halifax, a post he filled regularly from 1868 to 1877. As spokesman for Archbishop Thomas Louis Connolly* and the large Catholic population of Halifax, Hannan wielded no small amount of influence. His position was especially significant in relation to his service from 1865 to 1874 as an active member of the Halifax Board of School Commissioners. In 1864–65 the government of Charles Tupper* instituted a system of non-denominational public schools supported by compulsory taxation, but Archbishop Connolly considered religious training an integral part of the education of Catholic children and was worried that Catholics would be unable to “control” the schools attended by their children. Connolly pressured Tupper to create separate Catholic schools in law, but Tupper adamantly refused. A compromise was reached which resulted in the establishment of one school system with separate school buildings for Catholic teachers and students. Roman Catholic involvement in the direction of the school system was guaranteed by the inclusion of Catholics on the provincial Council of Public Instruction and on local school commissions.
Hannan’s work as a Halifax school commissioner in the first decade of the new educational system’s operation was particularly delicate and earned wide praise. He dealt directly with Tupper, sometimes without the approval or prior knowledge of Archbishop Connolly, for Tupper seemed to find Hannan’s reactions less emotional than those of the archbishop. Hannan none the less criticized Theodore Harding Rand*, the superintendent of education from 1864 to 1870, for his public comments opposing religion in the schools and sought to have him removed. Hannan was also active politically as a supporter of Tupper and the federal Liberal-Conservative party. Unlike Connolly, who was criticized for his overt political partisanship, Hannan did not proclaim his support for the party’s policies, publicly preferring instead to work behind the scenes in the 1872 federal election.
On 20 May 1877 Hannan was consecrated archbishop of Halifax in succession to Connolly who had died the previous year. During his five years as archbishop Hannan maintained his interest in education, overseeing the construction of numerous schools and working diligently to consolidate the informal but increasingly accepted Catholic presence in the educational system.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), no.2975, will of Michael Hannan, 22 April 1882. PAC, MG 26, D, 2, 13, 25; F, 4, 5; RG 31, Al, 1871, census, Nova Scotia. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), May 1877, April 1882. Canada, an encyclopædia (Hopkins), II. Dent, Canadian portrait gallery, III. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), II: 194–95. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Sister Maura [Mary Power], The Sisters of Charity, Halifax (Toronto, 1956).