Loyola’s Sister Jean, 99, joins state Senior Hall of Fame
Coming off team’s run to Final Four, chaplain eager for Ramblers’ new season
Sister Jean can’t wait for the season to start.
As chaplain of Loyola University’s men’s basketball team, the joyful nun catapulted to international superstardom as the squad stormed its way to the NCAA Final Four last spring, her popularity exploding via GIFs and memes on social media. Her memories of it are vivid, but she’s ready to launch her 25th year as the spiritual and moral center of the team, and eager to talk shop about the players’ chances when the season starts in November.
Owing to that and her more than seven decades in education, state leaders honored Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt on Friday by inducting her into Illinois’ Senior Hall of Fame.
At 99 years old, she shows no signs of slowing down.
“I encourage senior citizens to forget about their age and just keep doing,” she said in an interview. “The aging part doesn’t bother me at all because that’s where I am at this point. I hope other people my age and younger will continue to do everything they possibly can as long as they can to help other people.”
Born in 1919, Sister Jean became a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1937. She spent the next 24 years working in elementary education as a teacher, coach and principal.
She moved on to the Catholic all-women’s Mundelein College in 1961 serving in a variety of roles, including associate professor, dean and director of academic advising. When Mundelein merged with Loyola in 1992, Sister Jean was still working and took on academic advising at the Rogers Park Jesuit institution.
She was approached to become the men’s basketball team chaplain in 1994 when her predecessor in the role retired.
In addition to that role, Sister Jean is involved in a scholarship program to benefit students in the U.S. without legal permission, as well as one matching students with residents of a nearby retirement community for companionship and assistance.
“She embodies Loyola’s commitment to educate the whole person,” acting Provost Margaret Callahan said.
Sister Jean is among four people to be added to the Senior Hall of Fame this year, established by the General Assembly in 1994 to recognize the contributions of Illinoisans over 65.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton nominated her for the award, saying it was an obvious choice.
“She has opened doors to nontraditional students, worked to expand higher education for immigrants, united generations and served as a daily emissary and counselor to the greater student body, faculty, staff and neighborhood,” Cullerton said. “Frankly, Sister Jean, I’m stunned no one has so far mentioned you for mayor.”
“Sister Jean represents all that is wonderful in life: faith, love of community, love of God, giving back to those most vulnerable among us,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said.
Not only does Sister Jean not want to scale back her work, but also she doesn’t feel like she needs to.
“It seems to me we keep dropping the age of ‘senior citizen’ down to, like, 55 now. That’s not old at all!” she said. “I feel fine except that my old bones are taking a little longer to heal than I expected. But I’m reconciled to the fact that it’s going to take a little while.”
For anyone planning to attend Loyola’s opening exhibition game against Wichita State, she has some advice:
“You’re going to have to come early because the Gentile (Arena) is going to be packed,” she said. “We are delighted by how much joy and happiness that we have brought to the world, really. We hope to continue that.
“Andof course Ihave to say, ‘Go Ramblers!’ ”
“Sister Jean represents all that is wonderful in life: faith, love of community, love of God, giving back to those most vulnerable among us.” —Gov. Bruce Rauner
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, chaplain for the Loyola men’s basketball team, reacts to being presented the 2018 Senior Hall of Fame award Friday from the Illinois Department on Aging during a ceremony at Loyola’s Corboy Law Center.