She might be best known as a fixture on the sidelines, but on and off campus, Sister Jean is much more
By Scott Alessi
August 19, 2019 — On August 21, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, turns 100 years old.
As teacher, administrator, dean, academic advisor, and chaplain, Sister Jean has touched the lives of generations of students at Loyola University Chicago. In recent years, she has become a touch point of faith and optimism—of spiritual wisdom and basketball expertise—for people around the world.
As she makes her way through the halls of the Damen Student Center, Sister Jean makes a point to say “good morning” to every person she encounters.
“That's being a person for others by just being yourself,” she says. “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.”
It is safe to say that God hasn’t made too many people quite like Sister Jean. She’s remained incredibly active, taking to heart a saying from her mother: “It is better to wear out than to rust out.”
And Sister Jean has certainly embodied that philosophy throughout her 100 years of life. “I keep saying that to myself,” she said in a 1998 interview. “Don’t let yourself sit around here and do nothing.”
In her time at Loyola, Sister Jean has become an iconic figure known and loved far and wide. She’s touched the lives of countless people, appeared in nearly every major media outlet in the country, and shaped the life of Loyola University Chicago and its campus, where she’s spent more than half a century. And still, she wakes up happy every morning, ready to experience another day.
In 1984, Sister Jean became associate vice president for academic affairs. (Courtesy of the Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago.)
It’s no surprise then that every member of the Loyola community is excited to celebrate her big milestone.
The Loyola University community will celebrate her 100th birthday on August 21 with cake and songs at the Lake Shore Campus in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. A press conference with the beloved nun will follow.
In February 2011, her likeness was immortalized in plastic for the Loyola Ramblers’ first Sister Jean bobblehead night, during which the first 900 fans at Gentile Arena receive a small statue of the team.
Additionally, on August 21, the university will be honoring Sister Jean by raising funds for a $100k endowment in support of athletic excellence and student-athlete welfare. For more details about Sister Jean’s life and the Worship, Work, Win Fund, visit LUC.edu/sisterjean.
To people outside Loyola, Sister Jean became a household name in the span of just a few weeks in March 2018. When the Ramblers played their first-round game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, announcers and reporters were eager to tell the story of the then 98-year-old chaplain sitting courtside to cheer on her team.
In fact, if you Google the phrase “basketball nun,” you’ll find links to dozens of stories from CNN and the New York Times to People magazine and ESPN singing the praises of the Catholic sister who accompanied Loyola on their improbable road to the Final Four. But to members of the Loyola community, the rest of the country was just discovering what they’d known for a long time.
It began in 1994, when a 75-year-old Sister Jean was ready to retire from Loyola. But once again, she was called—this time to take on a role helping student athletes keep up their grades so they could maintain their eligibility to play. That evolved into a position as official team chaplain for the men’s basketball team, with her pre-game prayers and advice to players becoming a critical part of the team’s success. Her role with the team has also earned her numerous accolades, including a much-deserved induction in the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame.
Although it may be true that basketball has brought Sister Jean fame, her true passion remains being a servant of God who has devoted a century to helping others. And whether it be through mentoring basketball players, following the mission of the BVMs to educate, sharing in a prayer with a group of students, or just saying hello in the hallway, it is maintaining that connection to college students that still brings Sister Jean the most joy in her life.
“That's because I love working with these young people,” she says. “I think that's what kept my heart young—not my body young—but kept my heart young all these years.”