Mount St. Joseph University

Mount Rallies Around Lauren Hill


By: Amanda Gratsch

File Under: lauren hill, mission, women's basketball

Lauren Hill speaking.

A Remarkable Young Woman Builds a Lasting Legacy

Thousands around the nation have heard her compelling story. A special young woman named Lauren Hill, with only a few months left to live with a dream to play one last college basketball game, has taught an unforgettable life lesson to never give up on your dreams.  With efforts to raise funds and awareness for this disease through a natural desire to play her heart out in this sport, Lauren has undoubtedly become a basketball hero.

Even throughout her terminal illness, Lauren’s strong bravery and sincerity have fueled her lasting hope to never give up on her cause even during her final months. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, (DIPG) Lauren’s life has been cut short, but her determination to spread awareness of this cancer has not. With little research completed on the disease, Lauren believes her purpose in this world is to give a voice to those with DIPG who cannot speak for themselves of their experiences, as she stays determined to spread awareness to raise money for this cancer in collaboration with The Cure Starts Now. 

As her courageous mission has tugged on the heart strings of many, Lauren has built a legacy that will truly endure in an effort to help the generations who come after her with this fatal disease. Her inspiration is like a bright light that continues to shine unto the world, as she carries a determination to never let it fade. The number 22 will forever be instilled in our hearts.   

Mount Community Gives a Helping Hand

image: Teammates support Lauren Hill
Lauren's teammates show their support as she walks out onto the court.

As a result, a multitude of people continue to embrace and support Lauren’s strength through this difficult time, showing what a true community represents.

Over the past few months, I have watched Mount St. Joseph University exemplify the definition of community to its fullest, while people continue to rally around this brave college freshman as she continues to face the toughest physical battle of her life with a mission to help others suffering from DIPG.

As a whole, the surrounding Mount community has provided a community-based framework for helping Lauren during her journey. Numerous coaches, faculty, staff and students have recognized her story that she has bestowed upon us as a guide to never take a single moment for granted, asserting that the next is never completely promised. 

With a mission statement rooted in integrity, service to others and social responsibility, the University has lived out these values in support of Lauren’s mission.

In support of her fight, the Mount’s women’s basketball team has become a huge family for supporting Lauren throughout this process as the situation really hit home for the girls, according to Dan Benjamin, women’s basketball coach at the Mount. Overcome with emotion, the coach found the words to express the circumstance.

“​We talked about the situation. The end result. We had to tell them (the teammates), there is no cure. This hit a lot of girls.”

As a result, Benjamin says the team has been there for Lauren on and off the court, and has become a tight-knit family. He feels that the support Lauren has gained throughout this process has made the Mount community stronger, and made them realize what the Mount’s mission truly represents.

As Lauren’s teammates have helped her cope and live out her love for basketball during her final months, these players have certainly proved that there is no “I” in team.

Freshmen Emily Townsend and Maria Sams, both athletes on the team agreed that Lauren is the reason they became more of a family, as they acted as a support system for her during this difficult time.  They all just wanted her to be able to do what she loves in a way no different than anyone else.

“We didn’t treat it as a ​huge focus that she had cancer. We treated her like any other teammate,” said Townsend.

The team stuck behind Lauren, continuing to practice with her at her own pace until she reached her physical limit. According to the two Mount players, they even planned a surprise birthday for her, held on the Mount’s campus. In an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lauren said, “The thing I’ve loved the most about basketball is probably the family. We’re all sisters.”

A Professor's Kind Words

Lauren’s former religion teacher, Dr. John Trokan, D. Min. and department chair of Religious and Pastoral Studies at the Mount has witnessed Lauren’s journey in class throughout the semester, as he opens up about the experience of getting to know her and her moving story.

After becoming aware of her illness, Dr. Troken provides a heartfelt response to Lauren’s situation. He was deeply touched by her drive to continue to want to learn and not give up. He feels that she has gifted the community with a commitment to make a difference to the very end, as she moves beyond suffering to hope for the children who come after her with this disease.

With so many behind Lauren, Dr. Trokan says the support she has received has been overwhelmingly positive. He says that the Mount community has always followed the charism of the Mount’s mission everyday in small ways, making the response to Lauren’s journey the best of whom the Mount is.

“I’ve been going to​ practice whenever I can to watch the team, and I am totally inspired by these young women and how they have cared for one another and Lauren. It’s just inspiring to me in terms of that care and concern,” said Dr. Trokan.

Mount Lives out a Spiritual Mission

As a result, the Mount has brought a unique component of spiritual healing to Lauren’s battle with cancer. Several prayer services were held in the Mater Dei Chapel for Lauren and her family, welcomed by the Mount community.

Dr. Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, department chair of English at the University contributed a touching comparison of Lauren’s battle to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who underwent numerous trials in her life. Dr. Barkley compares Lauren’s mission to help others through her illness to St. Elizabeth’s call to meet grace in every circumstance of life. This message was sent out to the Mount so they could take something from this spiritual message relevant to Lauren’s profound circumstance.

“She (Lauren) has lived fully each day and tried to find a grace in her diagnosis, this awful ‘circumstance of life’ so that as she deals with her own trials and illness, she can make a difference in someone else's life,” said Dr. Barkley.

A Continuous Overflowing Support System

image: Women's basketball team in a huddle.

Women's basketball team gather in a huddle to show support when Lauren made her first collegiate basket on November 2, 2014.

The generous care and concern does not stop here. The Mount’s Mission Committee at Mount St. Joseph University is a group on campus that aims to make the Mount’s mission visible by doing service for others, according to Sister Nancy Bramlage, SC, director of Mission and Ministry at the Mount. In response to hearing Lauren’s story, the committee was immediately motivated to involve the community even further.

 According to Sr. Nancy, the Mission Committee created “Ribbons for Lauren,” where those on campus could visit the chapel to take a ribbon to wear in honor of Lauren. Additionally, they even set out a blank book where people could write her a personal message. Dozens of faculty, staff, students and alumni shared touching words of kindness for Lauren and her family in reverence for her fight and mission.

“This situation called for the best of us and we saw the best of us. It was there. It continues to be there; it’s not over,” said Sr. Nancy. “We talk about service of others, it could be anybody with all kinds of needs. This was an emotional need for a family and student who we wanted to help.”

Mount senior Jessica Mazzei reflects on the outpouring support she has seen as a student. She expresses how inspiring it has been to be a part of the Mount’s wholehearted support for Lauren’s cause.

“I have seen so many people around campus wearing the ribbons in support of Lauren. Also, when reading through my newsfeed through social media, so many of my colleagues are posting and sharing information about Lauren and her mission, and completing the Layup4Lauren challenge. It’s just trul​y amazing, the amount of people who are behind her,” said Mazzei. 

A Tight-Knit Community 

Grounded in the vision of its founders, the Sisters of Charity (SC), the Mount’s mission has been lived out through the community’s integral service to Lauren. Mount president Tony Aretz, Ph.D. feels that the mission has become instilled in everyone at the Mount.

“With Lauren’s situation, we’ve done it simply, humbly, and we’ve done it with charity. We’ve been true to who the Mount is. It springs out of our mission and is an extension of their (SC) ministry. We still live that mission today,” said Aretz.

Aretz noted an extraordinary experience at Lauren Hill’s big Sunday game. Everyone who attended seemed to reflect the spirit of the Mount, becoming a part of this special community. On this day, everyone felt the Mount’s spirit in their mission to support Hill, her family and her team.

He says Lauren felt that same Mount spirit when she first visited the campus. According to Lauren’s mom, Lisa, Lauren loved the Mount when she first arrived.

“The moment we stepp​ed onto campus, we knew it was home," said Lisa.  “We were looking at several colleges, but this was home for her.” 

Lauren has been faced with a terminal battle, but her passion to play basketball and her courageous fight and endurance to help others after her has touched and enriched the lives of so many. From her whole-hearted passion to live out her mission every day to that unforgettable smile, Lauren Hill has created a legacy, as she will be immortalized in our hearts.