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Lauren Hill lived the calling God gave her

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Just two weeks after stealing the national spotlight with a pair of layups Nov. 2, 2014 against Hiram College, Mount St. Joseph University freshman basketball player Lauren Hill was already showing some signs of decline.

On Nov. 18, 2014 at Mount St. Joseph for a check presentation, Hill was wearing gray, the color of Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glimoa awareness. The cancer was weakening her. Killing her.

There was nothing doctors could do to help.

Lauren Hill, center, is surrounded by teammates prior to a Nov. 18, 2014 check presentation at Mount St. Joseph University. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)

Faced ever more with her own mortality, Hill opted not to fade from the limelight. She continued to make public appearances and grant interviews to raise awareness and funds, all with the goal that one day, another child may have a fighting chance against this disease.

The survival rate of DIPG is zero. It affects mostly children, many of whom are too young to even understand what’s happening to them. Lauren Hill chose to be their voice and their champion.

On the date of the check presentation ($58,000 from the Nov. 2 game) Hill sat between her parents as various people spoke at a podium. She closed her eyes more than once, suffering nausea and dizziness. She wore earplugs because noise could make the headaches worse. She was unsteady on her feet when she stood.
With all her pain and suffering no one would have blamed Hill if she chose simply to wave to the crowd and go home to rest, but instead she spoke with everyone that came up to her. During the presentation, she addressed a full gymnasium.

I just want to thank everybody for supporting, and still supporting me, even though the game was two weeks ago,” Hill said Nov. 18. “It feels like it was yesterday. I’m really happy that this is happening and that we’ve got some funds for this research. Thank you guys.”

Hill was dying, and she wanted us to know she was happy.

Before the presentation, I spoke with Hill. It wasn’t an interview, and in the moment I wasn’t a reporter. I was just part of a community that looked on in slack-jawed wonder at the courage of a teenage girl facing death.
Hill was being guarded from unwanted attention by her coach Dan Benjamin and friends, but she was unguarded herself, smiling and laughing with teammates.

When I finally stepped up to say hello I wanted to tell her so much. I wanted to say she was a powerful witness to truly dying with dignity. I wanted to say she was in my prayers. I wanted to say she was a hero but all I could muster up was, “Thank you, you’re an inspiration. It’s an honor to meet you.”
Hill smiled, thanked me and shook my hand before taking her seat for the presentation.

I’ve shaken hands with congressmen, senators, bishops and celebrities, but that’s the one I’m most honored to have received.

Benjamin noted that Hill, who wasn’t Catholic but was a Christian, served to his faith.

“I’m not the most religious guy in the world but Lauren has taught me about faith in God, to wake up every day not worrying about things and to just be you any get up and go,” Benjamin told me. “I don’t claim to be anything special to God, but I know for a fact that he’s there. It’s pretty exciting to know that there’s faith out there. There’s something bigger and more powerful than us and maybe it took God to put 22 in my life for me to realize that.”

Maybe God put 22 in all of our lives for the same reason. To help us know there’s something bigger and more powerful than us out there. Sometimes we don’t understand why a 19-year-old girl has to die of cancer, but we place our faith in God “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

As Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr notes in his Prayer for Vocations, all of us are created for some definite purpose. Lauren Hill found hers, and now she has been called home.

Join me in praying for the repose of Lauren Hill’s soul and for comfort for her family and friends and the community of Mount St. Joseph.

Eternal rest grant unto Lauren O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the dearly departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Posted April 10, 2015

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