March 26, 2021


March Madness and the road to Holy Week and Easter

The Gonzaga Bulldogs, Creighton Bluejays, Villanova Wildcats, Loyola Chicago Ramblers, Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, St. Bonaventure Bonnies, Georgetown Hoyas and Iona Gaels. What do they have in common? They are Catholic universities whose Division I basketball programs qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament, which is popularly known as March Madness.

But they are not the only colleges with faith-based ties represented during the three-week long competition taking place in Indiana.

The Brigham Young University Cougars, Baylor Bears, Liberty Flames, Abilene Christian Wildcats and Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles also qualified for this year’s tournament.

As residents of Indiana, many of us love our basketball—be it of the Catholic Youth Organization, high school, college or professional variety. And many enjoy seeing young children pick up a ball and begin to learn the fundamentals of the game.

Whether it is through those fundamentals, teamwork or sportsmanship, basketball—and other sports—can offer a unique opportunity. We believe life lessons can be taught on and off the court.

We again this year see Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, now 101, who is the chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago’s men basketball team.

A member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Jean made national headlines in 2018 when Loyola reached the Final Four. Her prayers and scouting reports are concise and to the point, and the players appreciate her love of the team and passion for basketball. She has been the team’s chaplain since 1994.

Although the coronavirus limited fan attendance at the Ramblers’ home games this year (and for nearly all universities,) Sister Jean—after receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine—travelled to Indianapolis last week to pray and cheer for her team.

Before taking on Midwest region top seed the University of Illinois on March 21, Sister Jean—sitting in her wheelchair and decked out in her letter jacket and trademark maroon and gold scarf—delivered a pregame prayer.

“As we play the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great win,” she said. “We hope to score early and make our opponents nervous. We have a great opportunity to convert rebounds as this team makes about 50% of layups and 30% of its 3-point [shots]. Our defense can take care of that.” A few hours later, Loyola University Chicago upset Illinois 71-58 to advance to the Sweet 16, where they are scheduled to play Oregon State on March 27.

Like many of you, we feel a sense of relief as college basketball again takes center stage in the sports world this time of year. It reminds us that life can slowly begin to return to normal—if we follow the proper guidelines and protocols that have been put in place to help us battle the pandemic.

But as people of faith, we understand something even bigger than March Madness and COVID-19 is on the horizon.

We are about to enter Holy Week, a time where people of many faith traditions—including we as Catholics—mark the paschal mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oral Roberts University head coach Paul Mills, whose team upset both Ohio State and the University of Florida to advance to the Sweet 16, offered a faith-based perspective on what is important in life and the greater scheme of things after his team’s March 21 win.

“Now, 120 million people gather every Sunday, 180 million [will gather] on Easter, to celebrate one name, and that is the name of Jesus Christ,” said the coach of the school founded by evangelist Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla. “And so to be at an institution that honors that—there is no other name under heaven and Earth [by] which man must be saved. To be at an institution that honors that, and we can give them something to celebrate, [is special]. But at the same time, we are not that important. And our guys need to understand that. They are teenagers, early 20s, but by the same token, we are so thankful for the support and the people because we want to do this the right way.”

Doing things the right way. No matter what we do, it is the way each of us is called to live out our vocation.

For many of us, Lent has been a time of conversion and transformation.

May we use the remainder of March to pivot into Holy Week and Easter—and beyond—to continue to become the people Christ wants us to be: evangelists eager to live out the Gospel mandate to “go and make disciples” and share the good news.

—Mike Krokos

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