A local family’s legacy of service and giving spans decades, donations and a tragic death
Four years after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, Molly Hightower’s family is continuing her legacy of helping Haitian orphans, even as they still struggle with her death.
“We’ll always be involved in Haiti,” said Molly’s father, Mike Hightower of Port Orchard. “When I say my nightly prayers, I remind God that he made a mistake on taking Molly and then I thank him for what we do have,” he said.
Helping build Molly’s legacy in Haiti is a large donation from her great-uncle, Father Oliver Lee Hightower, retired pastor of St. John Bosco Parish in Lakewood, who died last May.
Molly Hightower and NPH Haiti orphans before the quake. Photo: Courtesy Hightower family
Molly, 22, a graduate of Bellarmine Prep and the University of Portland, was one of more than 200,000 people killed in the Jan. 12, 2010, Haitian earthquake. She was midway through a year of volunteering at the Port-au-Prince orphanage operated by Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters).
Her extended family has continued to be involved with NPH, which helps abandoned and orphaned children in the Caribbean and Latin America. Hightower family members volunteer, sponsor “godchildren,” make financial contributions to the orphanage and help oversee “The Hightower and Kloos Legacy Fund” that assists NPH volunteers with expenses. Molly’s sister, Jordan, volunteered at NPH’s Honduras orphanage for two weeks in 2011.
“Even since the earthquake and losing Molly, they have been amazing ambassadors and supporters of our work and our children,” said Katie Hultquist, director of NPH USA’s Northwest Region.
A major new Hightower legacy is the $300,000 that Father Lee Hightower bequeathed from his estate to global charities, including $150,000 that the archdiocese’s Missions Office helped distribute to NPH USA and Free the Kids, both Haitian charities.
Service and charity
The Hightower connection to Haiti and service does not start with Molly. She grew up in an active Catholic family that believed in the value of service, values imparted to her father and his siblings by their parents, John and Annette.
“We grew up in a household where our uncle was a priest, our parents were involved in the church, and we always had extra people at the dinner table,” said Molly’s uncle, Jesuit Father C. (Craig) Hightower.
Molly’s aunt, Christina (Hightower) Zimmerman, volunteered with NPH in Honduras for a year in the early 1990s. When Molly’s uncle, Craig, served with NPH in Haiti, the organization was so desperate for a school principal that they asked him — a new volunteer fresh out of college— to take the job, he recalled.
His father gave him this advice: “If you fail, you fail, but if you don’t do it, you’ll never know.” Craig took the job and was so inspired by serving that he decided to become a priest.
“That’s how we were raised,” said Father C. Hightower, now the superior of the Sacramento Jesuit Community. “You do things and you go and you help and you get involved. And you trust and pray that it works out,” he said, “and if it doesn’t work out, then you figure out why and you do it again.”
His uncle, Father Lee Hightower, died at age 77 after 51 years in the priesthood. He taught at Carroll College in Montana, was an Army chaplain and reservist, and served as St. John Bosco’s pastor for 10 years. Although he never served as a missionary, Father Lee Hightower had a love for missions, said his brother, John Hightower. Father Lee traveled to visit Craig in Haiti in 1993 and sponsored numerous NPH children in Mexico and Haiti.
“He was a person who really lived the values of service and charity,” said NPH’s Hultquist.
Those values, passed down through the generations of the Hightower family, help Molly’s spirit live on.
View more photos of the Hightowers on Flickr.
Anniversary eventA special event commemorating the Haiti earthquake, “Haiti: Four Years Later: Survivor Stories,” is slated 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at Impact Hub Seattle, 220 Second Ave. S. General admission tickets are $15.
Relief servicesCatholics around the archdiocese donated $2 million to Haitian earthquake relief, the archdiocese’s largest emergency relief collection to date, said J.L. Drouhard, director of the Missions Office. Learn what Catholic Relief Services has done in Haiti in the four years since the quake.
January 10, 2014