March 23, 2018

Editorial

Sister Jean offers example for young and old alike

It isn’t often that you find a religious sister garnering headlines from ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times.

But 5-foot-tall Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt has reached these unexpected heights in a way that has made America smile with unbounded joy.

A member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the 98-year-old is the chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team.

And thanks to the team’s recent success in the 2018 NCAA basketball tournament, she’s become a media darling on television, in newspapers and on the Internet.

Sister Jean has been the team’s chaplain since 1994, and in January 2017, she was inducted into Loyola’s sports hall of fame. She has used the current spotlight to share her passion for basketball and her love of life and God.

But even more important, she has taken this opportunity to follow Pope Francis’ call to be a missionary disciple, evangelizing the millions who are able to see how she is living out her vocation by mentoring young men on the fundamentals of basketball, the ups and downs of life, and the importance of faith. In fact, Sister Jean has been known to regularly work faith and basketball strategy into pre-game prayers.

According to a story posted on espn.com, the first time Loyola Ramblers’ player Clayton Custer encountered Sister Jean was during his first game at the school in 2015. Before the team ran out of the tunnel, they huddled around her.

“The way she prayed just stuck out,” Custer said. “In the middle of her prayer, there’s a scouting report mixed in. She tells us who their best players are and what to watch out for. Sometimes, she’ll pray for the referee to make the right calls.”

But her prayers aren’t limited to her team. A 2017 story in the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, shared how Sister Jean also leads the entire crowd at home games in a prayer before tipoff.

Her prayers always include petitions that each team will play well and be free of injuries. But she also shows her bias. When praying before the Jan. 21, 2017, game against the University of Evansville, she said, “Bless our fans. In addition, O Lord, we pray that the Ramblers fail to [turn over] the ball today.”

Sister Jean is most often decked out in Loyola gear and wearing her trademark maroon Nike tennis shoes with gold laces that have “Sister” stitched onto the heel of her left shoe and “Jean” stitched on the heel of her right shoe.

Teamwork is a lesson that Sister Jean has also stressed to Loyola’s players. And they have taken that advice to heart. After the team defeated the University of Miami in a heartstopping 64-62 win in its first round NCAA tournament game on March 15, Sister Jean told a TV reporter, “Our team is so great, and they don’t care who makes the points as long as we win the game.”

For those curious about how a religious sister developed such a passion for basketball, Sister Jean’s life story reveals a love of sports.

Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played six-on-six girls’ basketball in high school. Returning to California after entering religious life in Iowa—she joined the order in 1937 when she was 18—she taught elementary school and volunteered as a coach in public schools in Los Angeles when she was teaching in that city. She coached everything from girls’ basketball, volleyball and softball to Ping-Pong and the yo-yo. She once said she had her girls’ team play against the boys to “toughen” them.

But her latest assignment is the one that she currently treasures.

“I love every one of them,” she said of the players at Loyola.

That love is evident as you watch players flock to her after the final buzzer sounds to end a game.

The hugs exchanged, words offered and love shared offer a wonderful example to all of us of how a 5-foot‑sister can impact a younger generation.

No matter what our age, we would all do well to follow Sister Jean’s example.

—Mike Krokos

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