CHICAGO — When it comes to March Madness, Sister Jean is second to “nun.” At least in age.
The chaplain of Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team, who rose to prominence during the 2018 NCAA Tournament when the Ramblers reached the Final Four, turned 100 on Aug. 21.
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, B.V.M., has been known to the students at Loyola for decades. The beloved nun told Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney in a video interview that the university posted online on Sister Jean’s birthday that she makes a point each morning to say hello to everyone, even those buried in their phone.
“That’s being a person for others by just being yourself,” Sister Jean said in the interview. “That’s the way I am. I have to be myself. I tell students that you’ll see people that you admire — you can do some of the things they do, but you have to be yourself. God made you the person who you are.”
In the third grade, Sister Jean — just Dolores back then — felt God’s call to the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was inspired by her teacher, a B.V.M. sister. She told Rooney she prayed each night for God’s guidance, always including her desire to join the order that inspired her at school.
That prayer was answered when Sister Jean entered the order in 1937. She was a teacher, coach and principal for two and a half decades in her home state of California before coming to Chicago and Mundelein College, a private, Catholic school for women, in 1961.
In 1991, Sister Jean became a Loyola employee when Mundelein merged with Loyola. She retired in 1994. But the former basketball player and coach soon began helping student-athletes keep their grades up. That turned into a role as the official chaplain of the men’s basketball team.
The religious sister nationally known for her pregame prayers and in-depth scouting reports was celebrated on Sunday at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the university’s Gentile Arena. Loyola is also honoring Sister Jean by raising $100,000 for an endowment fund for student-athletic excellence.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago joined the festivities by releasing a Lego version of Sister Jean.
She counts the students at Loyola as among the reasons for her long life.
“I love working with these young people, and I think that’s what kept my heart young,” Sister Jean said in the interview. “Not my body young, but kept my heart young all these years.”