Sister Jean’s 101st birthday wish: A Loyola campus visit — though college basketball would be nice too
Pandemic changes 101st birthday plans for Loyola’s beloved basketball-loving nun
A year ago Friday, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt peered over a large birthday cake and blew out her special “1-0-0” candles in front of a crowd of several hundred at Loyola’s Damen Student Center.
It was the party of the century — at least in Sister Jean’s eyes — with appearances by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other prominent Illinoisans and a star-studded video tribute featuring former NBA great Charles Barkley, Bears matriarch Virginia McCaskey and then-Cubs manager Joe Maddon, among others.
But what made the occasion most special, Schmidt said, was the opportunity to share it with Loyola students, faculty and alumni.
“It was a wonderful day,” she recalled.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Loyola can’t celebrate the same way this year for Schmidt’s 101st birthday, a milestone she said she wasn’t sure she’d reach. But the school will do what Schmidt believes is the next best thing, holding a virtual party Friday. And Loyola’s No. 1 fan is inviting everyone to be part of her special day.
“I’m excited because I don’t know much about it,” said Schmidt, the longtime men’s basketball team chaplain whose popularity skyrocketed during Loyola’s unlikely run to the Final Four in 2018. “There’s going to be a lot of surprises, I think. The street talk is that they’ve made a video of people greeting me, and I don’t know who that is or what it is or anything . . . . It’ll be just a lot of fun — I know that.”
Her one birthday wish? “The best one I could possibly imagine is if I could leave [my apartment] and go to campus,” she said.
Unfortunately, it could be months — and perhaps not until 2021 — before that’s possible.
To avoid exposure to the virus, Schmidt has been confined to her apartment since March. But it hasn’t been too bad.
“Loyola keeps me plenty busy,” she said with a laugh.
She starts each morning by checking email, then spends most of the rest of the day talking with students and friends on the phone and scrolling through Facebook. Her schedule is also dotted with meetings with various people and organizations at Loyola.
“I’m busy,” she said, “but I’d rather be busy.”
She misses interacting in person with students. The lack of physical contact has been the biggest challenge the last five months.
Washing hands? No big deal. Wearing a mask? “It’s not too hard.”
“But that 6-foot distance, that’s the hardest for me,” she said.
She was bummed when she learned the Missouri Valley Conference was postponing fall sports because of the pandemic.
“I wanted that so badly for us . . . because I knew that would give students a lot of hope,” she said. “And ... I think we could’ve done it. Basketball, they’re going to let us know by the end of this month. And I hope they let us know that we’re gonna have it, because all these sports are a part of the college education.”
What will she do if there isn’t basketball this winter?
“I hope they [replay] a lot of games on TV,” she said.
She also believes the pandemic is bringing out the best in some people.
“I’ve learned to always think positively about whatever is happening,” she said. “So I believe that this COVID, there’s something good going to come from it. There’s so much suffering now, but I think that we’re going to respect people better, and we’re going to care for people [better].”
To minimize her coronavirus risk, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt (pictured during the Ramblers’ Final Four run in 2018), has been stuck at home since March.