‘This nun was flying’: Sister Jean Talks Loyola Basketball, Her Rise as a Rambler Icon and Helping People ‘Wake Up With Purpose’

“I may be an old nun, but I know my hoops.” 

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt’s electrifying modesty is best summed up in that quote from her new book, Wake Up with Purpose! What I’ve Learned in My First Hundred Years. It’s an energy that captured the nation’s heart during Loyola’s improbable March Madness run in 2018 where the 103-year-old nun was the star over any player competing in the tournament.

Sister Jean’s Ramblers didn’t make the cut to be a part of this year’s NCAA tournament but, if the title of her new memoir didn’t give it away already, she is in high spirits. Since her rise as a college hoops icon, she’s developed a perspective only few people have fully formed. Now, she wants to share it with the rest of the world. 

“I had thought first, maybe I just got a purpose when I was later in life,” Sister Jean told WBEZ on Feb. 27. “But then as I looked back on my own life, I thought, ‘No, I, you know, I had a purpose all the time, without knowing that it was a purpose.’”

Schmdit’s connection to basketball runs deeper than the one she formed when she became Loyola men’s basketball team’s chaplain. As a teacher at the university in the early 1990s, she wanted to give the children she taught an opportunity to play sports–something she didn’t have until she was a freshman in high school. She said it wasn’t until 1994 when Loyola’s president asked her to work with the men’s and women’s basketball teams to “encourage them to get better grades.” The decision was as clear as day for her and she took on the opportunity with open arms. 

Loyola Men’s Basketball vs. Kansas State

Schimdt has been Loyola men’s basketball team’s chaplain ever since and she eventually became so popular around the community that the school manufactured and gave away Sister Jean bobbleheads in 2011. Her local fame blossomed into a national story when the 11th-seeded Ramblers when on a historic run to the Final Four seven years later. At the center of it all was Sister Jean, whose prayers for the team ahead of each game were captured by the media throughout the tournament. 

Sister Jean became the biggest talking point of March Madness that year — eventually having her own press conferences the farther the team went in the postseason (her bobbleheads from prior years sold out as her celebrity increased). “Sister Jean’s press conference was packed to capacity. More than 50 television cameras and 150 members of the media squeezed into the room. It was unlike anything I’ve ever covered,” CBS reporter Matt Norlander said of the press conference.

NCAA Final Four – Semifinal Loyola Men’s Basketball vs. Michigan

“Well, it was sort of a shock,” Sister Jean told WBEZ. “Because I woke up the morning after we were moving along and winning our first four games and the NCAA. And so I woke up the first morning and said, ‘This is not a dream, it’s for real. So I better get going.’ It was just something very new to me. But Loyola people helped me get through and said, ‘Just keep on, talk as you do when the reporters come and everything.’ So they encouraged me to do it.”

In the memoir, Sister Jean goes deeper into her celebrity status, her goal of giving others happiness and what she has learned in her 103 years of life. She wants people to wake up happy and with a purpose. She has one other desire she can’t help but pine for as a basketball fan and integral part of Loyola’s men’s basketball team. 

“And I want the Ramblers to win.” 

How to Help:

Support youth sports, health and fitness by supporting these local and national organizations dedicated to helping children incorporate health, fitness and wellness into their lives.

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James Kay, freelance headshot

James is a freelance reporter who has covered the Chicago Sky for the Chicago Tribune, MarketWatch and The Next Hoops. He hosts and produces a podcast covering the team called The Skyhook Podcast and is a mass communications/journalism graduate from the University of Iowa. 

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