Rev. Frederick J. Hanna, All Saints Episcopal rector, dies

He had worked for repeal of Maryland's miscegenation law during the 1960s

  • Rev. Frederick J. Hanna
Rev. Frederick J. Hanna
March 02, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

The Rev. Frederick J. Hanna, former rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Reisterstown who was an outspoken champion of civil rights in the 1960s, died Friday of pneumonia and renal failure at the Carroll Hospice Dove House in Westminster.

He was 86.

The son of a steamship captain and a homemaker, Mr. Hanna was born in Baltimore and raised in Walbrook Junction. He was a 1943 graduate of City College.

Mr. Hanna had been a factory worker in Baltimore and an interior decorator in San Francisco before deciding to enter the Episcopal priesthood.

In 1956, he entered Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary in Gambier, Ohio. He was ordained an Episcopal deacon in 1955 and a priest in 1956.

Mr. Hanna, who had studied at St. Augustine's College in Canterbury, England, earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1969 and a master's degree in divinity from Bexley Hall in 1970.

From 1956 to 1959, he was vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption in Locust Point, and from 1959 to 1970 was associate rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon.

It was during his years at Emmanuel, when he was minister of social services, that he began working and counseling at-risk inner-city youths, many of whom were homeless, drug addicts or runaways.

Mr. Hanna called them the "disconnected," who came to the church seeking shelter, a meal or someone to talk to.

"And when they come to me, it's often the last resort," Mr. Hanna told the Sunday Sun Magazine in 1967 of his social ministry.

"I'm almost afraid to say this, but for some kids, being disconnected for a short period is the best thing for them. They need to find themselves, to show they can conquer something on their own," he said in the interview.

"For many it's a walk through the woods, and they come out on the other side all the better for it. Some never leave the woods. Dope, sex, perversion, stealing — they're all the more attractive and sometimes necessary when you're disconnected," he said.

During those years, he also coordinated drug abuse programs for the Baltimore health department.

"He was a strong supporter of civil rights. Hard as it is to believe now, Maryland in the mid-1960s still had a miscegenation law, which forbade marriage between a white and a brown person," said the Rev. Annette Chappell, an old friend who is the current rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption.

The former JoAnn Kovacs, who was a communicant of Episcopal Church of the Redemption, fell in love with a Samoan entertainer, Meki To'alepai, whom she had met in 1963 when he was performing in the Hawaiian Room at the old Emerson Hotel.

When the interracial couple decided to get married and went to apply for a marriage license in Baltimore, they were turned away because of the state's miscegenation law.

"I was white and he was brown, and we couldn't get married in Maryland because of the miscegenation law," Mrs. To'alepai recalled recently.

"Father Hanna took us to Washington and married us in the National Cathedral on Feb. 19, 1966. It was great of him to want to do that for us," she said. "He was the one who suggested we fight this law. We said 'yes,' because we wanted to help people like us."

The couple's attempt to marry earned them national headlines, as did their subsequent campaign to overturn the law.

"The law was repealed in March 1967, several months before the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia ended all race-based restrictions on marriage," said Ms. Chappell.

"The couple recently celebrated their 45th anniversary, and Mr. To'alepai is now a deacon in the Episcopal Church," she said.

In 1970, Mr. Hanna became rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, where he worked until retiring in 1989.

He was active in civic and ecumenical affairs in Reisterstown, where he was one of the founders of the Reisterstown Community Crisis Center to support the needy and troubled.

He had been a member of the Baltimore County Planning Board and had actively supported the construction of Interstate 795 in order to reduce congestion in the Reisterstown-Owings Mills area.

Mr. Hanna was a frequent contributor of letters to the editor of The Baltimore Sun in which he wrote widely in support of Planned Parenthood, expansion of drug treatment programs and helping terminally ill patients end their lives.

His work brought him honors such as the John F. Kennedy Quality of Life Award and the Sidney Hollander Foundation's Award of Distinction for his civil rights leadership. The Hannah More School in Reisterstown established the Frederick J. Hanna Scholarship for outstanding students.

"Before I became a priest, I was a parishioner at All Saints, and the word I hear used more than anything was that he was a sweet, sweet man," Ms. Chappell said. "He was gentle, kind, pastoral and interested in people."

Ms. Chappell added that Mr. Hanna "had no spare time. His church time and personal time just blended together."

The Rev. Eric Zile, who is pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Essex, was a member of All Saints when Mr. Hanna was pastor there.

"He was like a second father to me during the 1970s when I was a teenager and needed direction. He was there for me when I got in trouble," recalled Mr. Zile, who credited Mr. Hanna as being an influence and the reason he decided to become an Episcopal priest.

"When you needed comfort and solace, Fred was the man you went to. Often, he was a lone voice speaking out against injustice," he said. "He married me and buried my child. He was such a great man, and the world is a lesser place without him."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 19 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 811 Cathedral St.

Mr. Hanna is survived by several nieces and nephews.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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