July 17, 2009

Continued blessings, unexpected gifts: One year later, Julie Molloy and volunteers work to continue the legacy of Anna Molloy and Lucious Newsom

Lucious Newsom and Anna Molloy worked together for years to inspire people to care for the hungry and the needy. In this 2005 photo, Lucious, right, and Anna, second from right, pose during a groundbreaking ceremony for Anna’s House, a community service center in Indianapolis that was created to serve people in need. Charlie Caito, left, and Leo Stenz, two loyal supporters of Anna’s House, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony. (Submitted photo)

Lucious Newsom and Anna Molloy worked together for years to inspire people to care for the hungry and the needy. In this 2005 photo, Lucious, right, and Anna, second from right, pose during a groundbreaking ceremony for Anna’s House, a community service center in Indianapolis that was created to serve people in need. Charlie Caito, left, and Leo Stenz, two loyal supporters of Anna’s House, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Just moments earlier, Julie Molloy was wiping away tears, but now she’s smiling and laughing when she considers the question about the unlikely duo that changed her life and inspired countless people in Indiana and across the country to care for the hungry and the needy.

The question asks Molloy to consider how her daughter, Anna, and her friend, Lucious Newsom, would react to the way she has continued to keep their combined legacy alive during the year since they both died within 19 days of each other.

Flashing a smile first, Molloy imagines the tiny 12-year-old girl in the motorized wheelchair and the larger-than-life 93-year-old man in bib overalls nudging each other as they watch her from heaven.

Then Molloy breaks into a laugh because she is certain that her daughter and her friend are laughing at her.

“I bet they’re laughing at me,” says Molloy, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. “I’m a ‘Nervous Nellie’ type who is always wondering, ‘How are we going to get this done? Do we have enough food? Do we have enough money?’ Lucious would just say, ‘Quit worrying, God will take care of everything.’

“They’re laughing at me because every time something has come up this year that I thought was too big to overcome, it’s been taken care of. God has taken care of everything.”

Still, it always takes the longest to take care of the healing.

Trying to fill the void

In late July of 2008, a significant part of the foundation of Julie Molloy’s life began to crumble.

For more than 12 years, Anna had lived with a remarkable spirit, a spirit that defied the odds from the time she was born with a rare genetic disorder that causes dwarfism. Her approach to life touched her mom, her father, Pete, her brother, Peter, and so many others before she died on July 31, 2008.

Then, on Aug. 18, came the death of Newsom, the retired Baptist-minister-turned-Catholic who rose above traditional ways of caring for the poor, offering them dignity and everything he had.

When Julie Molloy first heard Newsom give a talk about serving the poor 12 years ago, she felt Newsom and God were speaking directly to her. As she cared for her family, she also became more involved with Newsom’s efforts. So did Anna. In fact, Newsom was so touched by Anna’s “hard work and love of Jesus” that he thought of her in 2005 when supporters built a community center near downtown Indianapolis that offers food and other services to people in need.

Encouraged to name the center after himself, Newsom instead decided to call it Anna’s House.

Their deaths rocked Julie Molloy.

“When Anna died, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she says. “It’s been a lonely year, a quiet year. Anna was just full of life. She had such a spirit about her, such a drive. She talked all the time, and now it’s so quiet. I have an amazing son who will be a sophomore in high school, and he keeps me busy. But when he’s in school, it’s quiet.”

As Molloy struggled with the deaths of her daughter and her friend, there was a growing fear among the supporters of Anna’s House and Newsom’s take-it-to-the-street ministry that everything would fall apart without his presence. Even as Molloy tried to fill the void by becoming the director of Anna’s House, the concerns grew.

“The fear was that with Lucious gone, we wouldn’t get the volunteers continuing to come, and the gifts wouldn’t come in either,” she says. “He had been the backbone of it. The fear was people would say, ‘Who’s that girl?’ ”

Nearly a year later, there are answers.

“I think Lucious would feel really good about how things have continued,” says Bill Bahler, a Catholic and longtime volunteer at Anna’s House who considers Newsom as one of the heroes in his life. “Julie picked up the baton, kept the principles in place, and kept the opportunity to serve in place. There was a huge void when Lucious died, but a lot of people still get to experience a lot of things that Lucious made possible, thanks to Julie’s efforts.”

Continued blessings, unexpected gifts

Molloy deflects any praise, preferring to give it all to “the many individuals who work so hard to keep this ministry moving.”

“I couldn’t do it without everyone else,” she says. “If you want to talk about the true director, God is the director of it. He just puts me down there to unlock the doors. It’s been a good place and a healing place to go there—to keep what Lucious started going and to increase the programs down there. Groups are coming in, wanting to do even bigger projects. An Eagle Scout re-did the basement so we have a wonderful place for the kids to play and we have a nice library down there.”

Another Eagle Scout is working to create a community playground on a lot across the street from Anna’s House. The Greater Indianapolis Neighborhood Initiative is improving the neighborhood with streetlights and a crime awareness program. And an organization called Common Ground Ministries is planning to repair five houses in the neighborhood.

Molloy has also continued the staples of Lucious’ ministry at Anna’s House: the community dinners on Wednesday evening and the food distribution to families in need on Saturday mornings.

The unexpected blessings continue, too.

“It’s almost like when God took Lucious, he brought in this anonymous donor,” Bahler says. “Lucious would go to this wholesaler on Saturday mornings and buy $800 to $1,000 of fruits and vegetables. After Lucious died, an anonymous donor came up and started paying the bill.”

Another volunteer credits Molloy with making improvements to Lucious’ way of feeding the poor.

“We’ve started registering our guests in the boundaries we serve,” says Joe Meade, a volunteer from St. Jude Parish. “That has been tremendous in making things run smoother. And Julie was very involved in that.”

More than 300 families from the near-westside of Indianapolis have registered to receive a week’s worth of groceries every Saturday at Anna’s House. If people from outside that area come seeking food, they receive groceries for that week. They are also given information about food pantries closer to their homes for the future.

“We’re not only assisting people from that area with food, but also with rent and utilities to keep them in their homes,” Molloy says. “We’re adding three to five families to the list every week. People are losing their jobs right and left because of the economy.”

“We’ve changed things up gradually,” Meade says. “Julie is not one to change things on her own. She’s always looking for input. She’s really doing a good job. She’s put her heart and soul into this.”

‘This is part of God’s plan for me’

Molloy is putting her heart and soul into another effort as the anniversaries of Anna’s and Lucious’ deaths near.

On Aug. 8 in Indianapolis, a 5K walk and a five-mile run will be held, with proceeds from the fundraising event split between Anna’s House and Anna’s Celebration of Life Foundation, an organization that the Molloy family started to provide elevators, wheelchair lifts, specialized bikes and other special needs for children with disabilities.

It’s one more way of keeping the legacies of Anna and Lucious alive.

“Those two teased each other like there was no tomorrow,” Molloy says with a laugh. “They would sit together and have their own conversations, and you weren’t privileged to know what they were saying.

“I have a picture that Anna was doing for a project at St. Jude’s—‘the hands and feet of Christ.’ There’s a picture of Lucious’ big, old, black hand, and on top of it is this teeny, tiny, white hand. That picture encompasses everything—the young and the old, the big and the little, the togetherness of the races. For me, it’s what this ministry is all about. Through them, people were able to see it didn’t matter what you have or didn’t have. You can make a difference, if you desire.”

Molloy has learned that lesson, and how it offers a touch of healing from the pain.

“I like to think this is part of God’s plan for me,” she says about leading Anna’s House. “He gave me a lot of kids to be responsible for, and helping with their needs. So I have a lot of kids to take care of. He gave me something good to do.”

(For information about Anna’s House, visit the Web site, www.lordspantry.org, or call Molloy at 317-710-0347. To register for the 5K walk or the five-mile run to benefit Anna’s House and Anna’s Celebration of Life Foundation, visit the Web site, www.personalbest5.com.)

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