Loyola University’s Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt celebrates a century of life

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Loyola University’s Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt celebrates a century of life

When a living legend like BVM Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt turns 100, it’s fitting to celebrate for a month. That’s what Loyola University Chicago did in August when its men’s basketball chaplain reached the century mark.
Cardinal Cupich presents a signed basketball from NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton o BVM Sister Jean DOlores Schmidt during her 100th birthday celebration. (Photo provided)
Sister Jean appears before her motto “Worship. Work. Win.” at the Loyola University Museum of Art exhibit on her life. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
People pose with a life-size photo of Sister Jean at the LUMA exhibit. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Sister Jean’s memorabilia from the Ramblers’ 2018 trip to the NCAA Final Four is displayed in a case at the LUMA exhibit. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Rambler fans and special guests packed the Damen Student Center on Loyola University's Lakeshore Campus to celebrate Sister Jean's 100th birthday Aug. 21, 2019. As part of the celebration on campus, the school announced a scholarship fund and endowment in Sister Jean's honor to support students. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also proclaimed Aug. 21, 2019, "Sister Jean Day" across the state. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sister Jean blows out candles on her birthday cake at the Damen Student Center on Aug. 21., 2019. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sister Jean presents the gifts during a Mass in her honor in St. James Chapel of the Archbishop Quigley Center on Aug. 7, 2019. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sister Jean smiles as she looks at a Lego statue of herself Aug. 15, 2019. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Catholic)

When a living legend like BVM Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt turns 100, it’s fitting to celebrate for a month. That’s what Loyola University Chicago did in August when its men’s basketball chaplain reached the century mark.

There were parties, a Mass, an address to incoming freshmen, an exhibit at the university’s museum of art and even a Sister Jean Lego statue. On her actual birthday, Aug. 21, the university celebrated “Sister Jean Day” with an event at the Damen Student Center that included tributes to the nun, a cake and the singing of “Happy Birthday.”

Cardinal Cupich joined others, including the hosts of “Good Morning America,” CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, Charles Barkley and the Chicago Bears’ Virginia McCaskey, in a surprise video message wishing her happy birthday.

During the event, Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney announced the university was raising $100,000 to endow the Sister Jean “Worship, Work, Win” fund for student-athletes. Rooney also announced a $500,000 scholarship fund for students in the nun’s honor.

While she has been a local legend for years, Sister Jean captured international attention during the Loyola University Ramblers men’s basketball team’s 2018 run to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Then 98, she became everyone’s favorite fan, making an appearance on “Good Morning America” and fielding interviews from national media outlets such as ESPN and the New York Times. Her story was shared across social media and picked up by nearly every major news outlet around the country.

Looking back at that time, Sister Jean told reporters at a news conference Aug. 21, “I thought God gave me a lot of graces, because I had never faced such audiences before.”

She said she thinks part of her appeal is that people aren’t used to seeing women religious involved in sports.

“I’m just acting like a normal human being, and sometimes they have ideas about sisters as being kind of aloof and so forth,” she said.

Sister Jean’s infectious joy is a large part of what draws people to her and is something she credits to having a happy childhood.

“I try to be a happy person. I think in order to have an impact on people, we have to be happy ourselves,” she said. “I’ve been a joy-filled person all my life. Sometimes people look at me and say, ‘How can you be so happy all of the time?’ Well, I am happy. I try to look at the good in everybody I see, with whom I work.”

It’s something she passes on to the students with whom she continues to work every day.

“I think joy is so important. Some days we’re going to have sad days, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our joy. We can still have that.”

Sister Jean said one of her favorite birthday gifts was the 2½-foot-tall statue from Legoland, which took more than 30 hours to build and includes 10,000 Legos. The statue is on display at the Lego Discovery Center in Chicago until the end of October, when it will be moved to Loyola’s Gentile Arena, where the Ramblers play basketball.

Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played basketball growing up and, in 1937, joined the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Iowa. She was 18. She taught in elementary schools and volunteered as a coach in Los Angeles public schools when she was teaching in that city.

In 1961, Sister Jean took a teaching job at Mundelein College, the women’s college located next to Loyola University in Rogers Park. Mundelein merged with Loyola in 1991 and just a few years later, in 1994, Sister Jean became chaplain of the men’s basketball team. In January 2017, Loyola inducted her into its sports hall of fame.

The Loyola University Museum of Art, or LUMA, chronicles her life in a new exhibit, “A Century of Sister Jean.” There are photos from her childhood and early days in religious life along with present-day photos and memorabilia, such as her trademark maroon and gold Nike tennis shoes with “Sister” and “Jean” stitched onto the heels.

The exhibit was open for a few weeks in August and will reopen when the museum opens in the fall.

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