Sister Jean, Breath of Fresh Air

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, 98, longtime chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team and campus icon, embraces a player after the team’s win in the first round game of the NCAA Tournament against the University of Miami March 15 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. (CNS photo/courtesy Loyola University Chicago)

With all the rumblings surrounding corruption in college basketball and the NCAA in general, this year’s NCAA Tournament has been a breath of fresh air.

The on-court play has been a nice distraction from any alleged recruiting violations, but truly the highlight of “March Madness” was one devout 98-year-old nun.

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, B.V.M., the chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team, took the nation by storm with her support for the No. 11 seeded Ramblers, who reached the Final Four for the first time since winning the tournament in 1963.

Sure she offers moral support for the players, but she’s actually a basketball guru. She played in high school at St. Paul’s H.S., San Francisco, Calif., before entering the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary convent in Iowa in 1937.

In the pregame huddle, she leads the team in prayers – praying for both teams to stay safe during the contest. She also prays for Loyola’s opponent, but admittedly, “not as hard.”

She compiles notes on the team’s opponents and goes over which players to watch out for on the other team. Until she broke her hip this past November, she only missed two home games in the past 23 years.

With each of the team’s improbable victories during the run to the Final Four, Sister Jean was there, wearing her burgundy and gold scarf and sporting an infectious smile.

The Ramblers’ magical run came to an end in the Final Four, losing in the national semi-finals to the University of Michigan. The players rallied around their team chaplain and will never forget what she has meant to the program.

So in a time when headlines are dominated by sad and bad news, seeing how Sister Jean captivated a nation by just being herself was a welcome change of pace. She “rambled” her way into the hearts of sports fans nationwide, and she did so by simply showing the love in her own heart.

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