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

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - MADELINE KENNEY mken­ney@sun­times.com | @mad­ken­ney

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].”

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IM­AGES

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.

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