Loyola University celebrates Sister Jean’s 104th birthday

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Loyola University celebrates Sister Jean’s 104th birthday

Students, staff and alumni from Loyola University Chicago wished Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Jean Dolores Schmidt a happy 104th birthday during a block party at the Water Tower Campus on Aug. 31, 2023. Sister Jean turned 104 on Aug. 21 and, as part of the celebration, threw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee Brewers game on Aug. 28. The Loyola University Museum of Art also opened a special exhibit, highlighting her accomplishments and her international celebrity. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich and Mark Reed, president of Loyola University Chicago, wish Sister Jean a happy birthday at the Water Tower Campus Block Party on Aug. 31, 2023. (Lukas Keapproth/Loyola University Chicago)
Students and staff pose for a photo with Sister Jean. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students take turns taking photos with Sister Jean. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A well-wisher poses for a photo with Sister Jean. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the media interview Sister Jean while she takes a break from pictures. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sister Jean sports a big smile as reporters ask her questions. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Loyola President Mark Reed presents Sister Jean with a cake. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cheerleaders cheer on Sister Jean. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Loyola’s mascot, Lu Wolf, dances with students at the celebration. Lu Wolf was inspired by the coat-of-arms of St. Ignatius of Loyola, from whom Loyola derives its name, which depicts two wolves standing over a kettle. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Loyola University Chicago celebrated the 104th birthday of BVM Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt at its annual Water Tower Campus block party Aug. 31, an event that included a line of students, alumni and other well-wishers waiting for a photo with her as well as an opportunity for all the attendees to sing “Happy Birthday” to Loyola’s biggest, and perhaps most unlikely, celebrity.

“We have the opportunity to celebrate a treasure of Loyola, Sister Jean,” said Jesuit Father Tom Nietzke, dean of Loyola’s Arrupe College and university vice president and special assistant to the president. “Sister Jean is not only a treasure to us, but to the city of Chicago, the United States and the whole world.”

After swiping a fingerful of frosting from the cake, Sister Jean took the microphone and urged the students who had gathered to stay true to their dreams.

“You have great values, great purpose in your lives,” she said. “Remember, God comes first, then study, then all those other things you want to do. Worship, work and win.”

Sister Jean became a national celebrity in 2018, when the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball team made a run to the NCAA Final Four. As the team chaplain, at age 98, she was there on the sidelines for every game, wearing her personalized Nike sneakers and her Loyola maroon and gold scarf, not just praying for and encouraging the players, but taking time to speak with everyone who wanted to speak with her.

She had already been inducted into Loyola University’s sports Hall of Fame the year before, after more than two decades as the men’s basketball team chaplain, a duty she took seriously. Former Loyola basketball coach Porter Moser, who took the team to the Final Four in 2018, told reporters that when he arrived on campus, he received scouting reports on all his players from Sister Jean, and she has said she would email players after every game, offering praise and suggestions for improvement.

Last year, Sister Jean published her bestselling memoir, “Wake Up With Purpose!: What I’ve Learned in My First Hundred Years,” written with journalist Seth Davis.

Born in San Francisco on Aug. 21, 1919, Dolores Bertha Schmidt entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1937 as a postulant and was formally received as a novice a year later. She made her final vows in 1945, and was sent back to teach in Catholic elementary schools in California, where she coached girls’ basketball, among other sports.

She arrived in Chicago to teach education at Mundelein College, the women’s college operated by the BVM sisters, and over the next three decades held a variety of faculty and administrative positions. When Mundelein became affiliated with the adjoining Loyola University Chicago in 1991, she became an associate dean and academic adviser for the university.

Three years later, when she was considering stepping back from her duties, the university asked her to work with the men’s and women’s basketball teams as an academic adviser. Two years later, she became the chaplain of the men’s basketball team.

Through it all, she has had an office on campus — now in the Damen Student Center — and has kept an open-door policy for students who want her counsel, or, sometimes, just her ear.

This year, she said in a brief media availability, she plans to observe the students who are studying and meeting friends just outside her door to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed them.

She’s been giving visitors See’s candies from a box she recently received. Mrs. Sees Candies are from California (the company started in Los Angeles in 1921 and expanded to San Francisco in 1936) and are her favorite, Sister Jean said.

By the time of the block party, Sister Jean had celebrated her birthday by throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game, and marked the beginning of the academic year by speaking to incoming freshmen.

“She’s so wise, and so knowledgeable,” said Mia Baumel, who waited for a picture with Sister Jean with three of her classmates.

“Even though things have changed over the past 100 years, the important things haven’t,” said Payton Nol, who was waiting with Baumel. “Things like kindness and compassion.”

It’s that kindness that stands out to Natalie McCann, who lives near Loyola’s Water Tower Campus, and came to meet Sister Jean.

“I believe she’s a saint,” McCann said. “She’s a beautiful soul. You can see it in her face.”

McCann said Sister Jean has been an example of how to live with joy and humility, and how to persevere through difficulty.

“Sometimes things may not be good,” McCann said. “But she shows us how to keep going, and show love.”


  • sister jean dolores schmidt
  • loyola university chicago

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