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Sister Jean, Loyola’s beloved basketball chaplain, turns 103

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Getty Images via AFP

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 09/01/22

We’re wishing you the happiest of birthdays, Sister Jean, and best of luck to your beloved Ramblers this coming season!

Loyola University’s basketball chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, is a legend in the sports world. So a jumbo celebration was in order for her 103rd birthday on August 21, 2022.

The governor of Illinois, the mayor of Chicago, and other local leaders turned out for the festivities. And Sister Jean received a special gift: The Chicago train station plaza at Loyola University is now named after her

In interviews with reporters, Sister Jean called the plaza dedication “very special” and gave her secrets to a long and healthy life: “I eat well. I pray well — I hope I pray well — and I sleep well.”

How did Sister Jean become a household name and sports icon? Her story, written by the hand of God, is as extraordinary as it is unexpected…

Called to serve

She was born Dolores Bertha Schmidt and raised in San Francisco, the oldest of three children in a devout Catholic family. Her life was changed forever by her third-grade teacher, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or BVMs for short). 

Little Dolores began to pray, “Please God tell me what I should do … but please tell me that I am to be a BVM.” And sure enough, she became one.

Following God’s call took her to the BVM motherhouse in Dubuque, Iowa; then to Catholic schools in her home state of California — where she taught during World War II — and finally to Chicago’s Mundelein College in 1961. 

She held numerous leadership positions at Mundelein before it became affiliated with Loyola in 1991. She worked at Loyola for a few years until she felt ready to retire in 1994, at age 75. But God had other plans for her. 

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. 

An avid basketball fan

The role was perfect for Sister Jean, a dedicated basketball fan who still delivers scouting reports and post-game analyses to Coach Porter Moser. “There is no human like her,” Moser told the Peoria Journal Star in 2017.

She became a household name in March 2018, when the Loyola 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.

Besides a bevy of media attention, her role with the team has earned her many honors, including induction into the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame and, of course, the CTA train stop bearing her name. All well deserved by this extraordinary woman who serves God through the students and athletes of Loyola University. 

We’re wishing you the happiest of birthdays, Sister Jean, and best of luck to your beloved Ramblers this coming season!

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