April 9, 2010

Simple philosophy marks lives of Spirit of Service winners

By John Shaughnessy

George Jennings considers it the best advice he has ever given to his 12 children.

The 85-year-old Jennings believes the old-fashioned advice is so crucial to leading a good life that he has continued to share it with his 30 grandchildren.

“It’s my favorite saying,” says Jennings, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I tell them, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s much more important to be nice.’ ”

That basic philosophy on life seems to guide George and Maryfrances Jennings, and the other people who will be honored by the archdiocese on April 28 with the Spirit of Service Award: Maria Pimentel-Gannon, Tom Hirschauer Jr., Julie Molloy and the volunteers of the Cathedral Soup Kitchen. (Related: Tables are available for Spirit of Service Awards dinner on April 28)

Here are the stories of this year’s winners, a group that will be recognized during the April 28 dinner which will benefit Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

George and Maryfrances “Mike” Jennings

During the decades they owned and operated a grocery store in a struggling part of Indianapolis, George and Maryfrances Jennings often “loaned” groceries to people in the neighborhood, trusting them to pay when they could.

When two neighborhood children—sons of a single father who worked nights—showed signs of getting into trouble, the couple welcomed the boys into their hearts and their home, finding room for two more beds in a house already filled with their 12 children.

When St. Mark Parish has needed help in any way, George and “Mike” have never hesitated to respond, even during the times when their family business was open six days a week for 12 hours a day.

In more than 50 years at their parish, the couple’s contributions have included singing in the church choir, reading at Masses and serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.

They have also sponsored engaged couples preparing for marriage, invited missionary priests and sisters to stay in their homes during parish visits, made meals for funerals, served on parish and school committees, and prepared and donated countless pounds of their family’s made-from-scratch, made-with-a-touch-of-heaven barbecue pork for the annual parish festival.

And that’s just a partial list of the contributions of this couple that has been married for 62 years. Just as special, they are surprised to think they will be honored for what they consider a natural approach to life.

“It was there to be done,” says “Mike” about all their efforts for others. “We’ve had a lot of people help us in our lives. That’s the way it is. That’s what you have to do. This is amazing that people think it’s so great what we do.”

It’s a comment that shows just how amazing they are.

Maria Pimentel-Gannon

Maria Pimentel-Gannon says there was a point in her life—more than 30 years ago—when her focus was solely on herself and getting to the top of her profession.

“I was so arrogant,” she says.

Then she became pregnant with her first child—after doctors told her that she would never have children—and her focus changed because of the gift that she believed God had made possible.

“God showed me I really wanted to have children and teach them,” says the mother of two grown daughters. “God taught me that the best kind of leadership is to step back and help others discover the gifts God has given them. The servant-leader approach is one of the best things God has given me. I see the hand of God in everything.”

“The hand of God” has lead Pimentel-Gannon to touch so many lives as a volunteer in the past three decades. While active in many community organizations in central Indiana, she has particularly dedicated her efforts to the archdiocese and her parish, St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

A past president of the archdiocese’s multicultural committee, she now serves on the archdiocese’s Christ Renews His Parish committee. She is also a lector, a bereavement committee volunteer and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at her parish.

She also works extensively with the Hispanic families at St. Monica Parish, teaching sacramental preparation sessions to adults and helping with the religious education of children.

Trying to help Hispanic immigrants move even closer to God in their faith is a special ministry for Pimentel-Gannon, a native of Mexico who immigrated to the United States with her family when she was a child. That work is all part of her greater goal to strengthen her faith and help everyone she meets to grow in their faith.

“We’re all the people of God,” she says. “My faith is seen in the efforts and the work that God has me doing. I’m defined by my faith.”

Julie Molloy

When Julie Molloy learned she would be a recipient of this year’s Spirit of Service Award, she immediately thought of the two people who inspire her loving efforts for the poor and for special needs children.

She thought of Lucious Newsom, the retired Baptist-minister-turned-Catholic who taught her how to care for the poor with dignity as they worked side by side at Anna’s House, a community service center for people in need in Indianapolis.

“I think Lucious would be proud,” says Molloy, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

She also thought of her daughter, Anna, who lived her too-brief life of 12 years with a remarkable spirit that defied the odds from the time she was born with a rare genetic disorder.

“She’d be proud of me, too, but her little, impish self would say, ‘It should be me,’ ” Molloy says with a laugh. “She would think the honor should be hers. She wasn’t shy about anything.”

Since Newsom and Anna both died in the summer of 2008, Molloy has done a stellar job of continuing their work as the director of Anna’s House. She has also been a driving force in Anna’s Celebration of Life as she leads an annual fundraiser that provides assistance to special needs children in the Indianapolis area.

“They both guide me every day with what we do,” Molloy says. “When people come in with needs, I’m constantly thinking about how Lucious would handle this. I also have a big picture of Anna over my desk. People will come in and say, ‘Who’s that?’ I tell them, ‘That’s my little girl,’ and ‘That’s who this house is named after.’ We talk about how she worked here and how she loved the kids.”

Receiving the Spirit of Service Award honors their spirit, Molloy says. It also honors the people who continue to live that spirit.

“When I was told about the award, it pretty much blew me away,” she says. “I thanked my husband and my son, and all who believe in me and what we’re doing down here.”

Cathedral Kitchen

When Margie Pike is asked to describe a typical day at the Cathedral Kitchen that serves more than 45,000 free meals each year to the homeless and the needy in Indianapolis, she gives an answer that may surprise many people.

“It’s absolutely the most joyous and fun place to work,” says Pike, the volunteer director of the food ministry of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis. “It’s fun because there are no big rules. We provide food, we welcome them, we respect them and we love them. And they’re very kind to us. I’ve learned that Christ is in each of us.”

This Spirit of Service Award doesn’t honor an individual. It honors a place and the volunteers who make a difference there. The Cathedral Kitchen serves meals to a daily average of about 130 people—every day of the year. Its food pantry also provides food for about 300 families each week.

“The first impression that comes to mind is the spirit of love that is evident in all the volunteers who help,” says Joseph Lamberti, a volunteer from St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “One needs to come to the Kitchen to observe the respect and dignity with which people treat each other. This is true of the volunteer staff and the guests, and the interaction between and among the guests. The overwhelming atmosphere is one of a peaceful and vibrant family gathering.”

Lamberti also credits the leadership of the past and present pastors of the parish for strongly supporting the Cathedral Kitchen, which first opened more than 75 years ago during the Great Depression.

“The Cathedral Kitchen exemplifies the challenge of living out Gospel values in the city of Indianapolis and is a visible symbol of our Church’s love for those in need,” Lamberti says.

A foundation of faith makes the Kitchen a spirit-filled place, Pike says.

“We never start a day of serving until we have prayed,” she says. “It puts us in the spirit for the day.”

Tom Hirschauer Jr.

For several years, Tom Hirschauer Jr. had the privilege of being part of the committee that chooses the Spirit of Service Award winners so he knows how difficult the selections can be.

“How do you decide out of a group of angels who is the deserving angel?” he says. “We’ve always been inspired by the passion and compassion of these angels. It’s amazing the things these people do, the sacrifices they make.”

After being selected as this year’s Community Service Award winner, Hirschauer now shares the reaction of so many previous honorees.

“It’s very humbling,” he says.

Hirschauer is the president and general manager of Publicis in Indianapolis, an advertising company whose clients include Simon Property Group, Roche Diagnostics, the Indiana Pacers and the Indiana Fever. A member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, he has always made time to serve the Church and the archdiocese.

A father of two, he is chairman of the board of Right to Life of Indianapolis. He is vice chairman of the board of Catholic Charities Indianapolis and a member of the St. Luke Parish stewardship commission. His extensive list of contributions has also included serving as a board member of the Catholic Community Foundation and as a cabinet member on three capital campaigns for the archdiocese.

“My family and I have been abundantly blessed,” he says. “I am compelled to try and give back some measure of what I have received. I believe this abundance was not given and intended for me, but rather to be shared in some small measure with others who need it more.”

He’s following the example of the Church, he says.

“As a Catholic, I believe strongly in what the Church does,” he states. “Think of what the Church does for the community through Catholic education, Catholic health care and Catholic charities. It’s really quite remarkable. As Catholics, we should be proud of who and what we are.” †

Local site Links: