5 Things to Know About Sister Jean as She and Loyola Return to the Sweet 16

The basketball nun is back. Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 101-year-old chaplain of Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team, made headlines last weekend for her pregame prayer. If it sounded more like a scouting report, that’s because it was. 

“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 three points. Our defense can take care of that.”

Sister Jean called for Loyola to hold Illinois under 30% from three-point range, and by the grace of God, it happened. Loyola upset No. 1 seed Illinois in the second round Sunday with a 71-58 win. 

Here’s what you need to know about Sister Jean before she and the Loyola Ramblers return to the Sweet 16 on Saturday for the first time since 2018. 

She’s the chaplain for Loyola’s basketball team 

Sister Jean was ready to retire from Loyola in 1994 when she was 75. Her love for helping students (and Loyola’s love for her) prevented her from leaving. Instead of retiring, she took on a role to help student-athletes with their grades so they could be eligible to play. This role evolved into her becoming the chaplain of the men’s basketball team. 

As team chaplain, she has earned numerous accolades, including induction into the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame. In the past, she would huddle with players giving a pregame prayer. But she didn’t let the pandemic stop her — she has joined the team with her scouting reports and prayers over the phone instead. 

This isn’t the first time she’s gained national attention

In 2018, she accompanied the Ramblers on their unlikely road to the Final Four. Basketball fans across the country fell in love with her as she sat courtside cheering on her team. Sister Jean became a household name in a span of a few weeks. (Fun Fact: Sister Jean didn’t have Loyola making it past the Sweet 16 in 2018. But she didn’t mind that they “broke” her bracket.)

Sister Jean knows her basketball 

When Coach Porter Moser arrived at Loyola, the sister sent him a scouting report on every one of the players. “She still sends me an email after every single game,” he told the Peoria Journal Star in 2017. “There is no human like her.” 

As for her 2021 bracket, she doesn’t have Loyola winning it all. She predicted it would make it to the Elite Eight but lose to West Virginia. Her national title pick is Gonzaga.  

She lobbied to attend this year’s NCAA tournament 

Sister Jean, like most fans, could not attend any games in person during the regular season. Her presence graced Joseph J. Gentile Arena only as a cardboard cutout. Once she received both of her vaccines, she lobbied hard to join the players in Indianapolis and was given permission to attend. It was the first time she’d been allowed to leave her senior facility in Chicago in more than a year. 

Above all, she’s devoted to helping others

Sister Jean knew in third grade she wanted to become a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs). In 1938, she was officially received into the BVMs, joining their mission of education. She spent 20 years teaching in elementary schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese before joining the Education Department of Mundelein College. She joined Loyola when Mundelein affiliated with the university in 1991. 

The sister has served students in many ways — as academic advisor, campus minister and as chaplain of the basketball team and Regis Hall student residents. She even held an apartment in a campus dorm so she could be more accessible to students. As part of her service work, she founded SMILE (Students Moving Into the Lives of the Elderly) to connect students to seniors in a retirement home.

“I’m calling them to see how they’re doing, what they’re doing,” she told a reporter. “I’ve called loads of freshmen this year, sophomores. And I’ve had emails. Every email I get, I answer. I’ve just tried to keep in touch with them, because these young people keep me young.”

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Caroline Hetzel lives in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago with her fiancé and two dogs. She’s a Tennessee native who likes local breweries, DIY projects, and vintage Pyrex. After graduating from Northwestern University, she spent three years in the San Francisco Bay Area creating videos and content for Brit + Co and Sunset. Caroline loves dogs and has volunteered at PAWS Chicago and supports Second City Canine Rescue, where she adopted her second dog Foggy. 

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