The team’s chaplain since 1994 has been Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is 97 years old. She also is the newest member of Loyola’s sports hall of fame. She was inducted Jan. 21.
Sr. Jean has become a fixture on the Chicago campus, even getting her own bobblehead day before a game in appreciation for her service. She keeps an office in the Student Center where her door is always open, and she lives in a dorm with 400 undergraduate students, where she also serves as their chaplain.
She leads the team in a pre-game prayer. A writer for ESPN who listened in before one game characterized it as a mix of prayer, scouting report and motivational speech.
“I love every one of them,” she told the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. “I talk about the game to them and then they go out and play.” In addition to the team, Sr. Jean also leads the entire crowd in a prayer before tip-off.
The 5-foot nun can be seen at every home game of the men’s team, which recently wrapped up its season at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. She’s 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.
Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sr. Jean played six-on-six girls’ basketball in high school. Returning to California after entering the convent 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. She coached everything from girls’ basketball, volleyball and softball to ping-pong and the yo-yo.
In 1961, Sr. Jean took a teaching job at Mundelein College, which was located next to Loyola. She remembers when, two years later, the Loyola Ramblers beat the University of Cincinnati in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game. Loyola hasn’t won a national basketball title since then and their last appearance in the NCAA tournament — better known as March Madness — was 1985. Coincidently, that was also the last year a Catholic university (Villanova) won the NCAA crown.
Mundelein merged with Loyola in 1991, and Sr. Jean moved along with it. In 1994, Sr. Jean became chaplain of the men’s basketball team. She has missed only two home games since then.
Sr. Jean gets healthy cheers from the home crowd when her name is announced over the public address system.
Before home games, Sr. Jean waits for the team and sits on a bench near the entrance to the court where the players come in. Students stop by to say hello. Referees come over to hug her.
After games she emails each player pointing out what they did well and what they can work on.
Off the court, she reviews the stats of Loyola’s next opponents online and confers with the players and coach Porter Moser. One testament to her longevity is that Sr. Jean is now on her fifth coach.
She recalled the time when she was near the scorer’s table as the opposing coach approached to submit his starting lineup. “Oh, do you want me to do your lineup for you?” Sr. Jean asked. The coach agreed. She provided the jersey numbers for four of the players the coach had planned to submit, then turned back to him and said, “The fifth one’s on you.”