It takes a long time to walk out of Regis Hall with Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. The agile 93-year-old stops to greet every single person that passes her in the hallway with her trademark smile, addressing nearly every student by name. She remembers an impressive amount about each student’s life, telling one student that she’ll see her for an event next week and asking another how her father is doing.
Referred to by most students simply as “Sister Jean”, the petite woman with curly white hair is one of Loyola’s most beloved staff members. Always around to offer a smile, hug or prayer card to stressed students, Loyola’s campus has been blessed with Sister Jean’s presence for more than 50 years.
In 1919, Sister Jean was born in the San Francisco area where she grew up with her parents and two younger brothers. She knew that she wanted to be a religious sister early in her life and joined the order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) right after her high school graduation.
“I went to schools taught by BVM sisters while I was growing up, and the sisters there always told us to be sure to pray so that we knew what God wanted us to do with our lives. I just knew that I wanted to be a sister, and I kept going on that path. I’ve never regretted it,” said Sister Jean.
Before she came to Loyola, Sister Jean spent several years as an elementary school teacher at schools in Chicago, Los Angeles and North Hollywood. During this time, Sister Jean served these elementary schools even outside the classroom. She coached girls’ basketball, volleyball and even a yo-yo team that won second place in California’s state competition. In what Sister Jean calls the “olden days”, nuns weren’t allowed to go out after dark. When they had night games, Sister Jean’s teams would call the convent at halftime, tell her the score and ask her to pray for them.
After her time as an elementary school teacher, Sister Jean became the principal at St. Brendan Elementary School in Los Angeles until she accepted a position at Mundelein College in 1961. Over the course of her 30 years at Mundelein and 21 years (so far) at Loyola, Sister Jean has filled a number of roles in both student services and the academic realm. Holding titles as varied as the Director of Coffey Hall to the Director of Academic Advising, Sister Jean has seen the Lake Shore Campus change in many ways over the years. She was around to watch Damen Hall go up in the mid 1960s and to watch it come down last year, and is one of the only people left who remembers what the campus looked like before Mertz Hall was built in 1969. Sister Jean remembers when Loyola first began using student IDs and is proud to show off her Loyola ID that has become yellow and weathered over the course of more than 15 years.
Though she officially retired from academic life in 1994, Sister Jean still stays just as active as any working adult. She currently serves as the chaplain for the Water Tower Campus, Regis Hall and the varsity men’s basketball team while also working part-time at a nearby doctor’s office and assisting at Madonna della Strada chapel. When describing how Sister Jean views her job as a chaplain, she said, “I’m here to encourage students and be here just to listen to what they need to talk about.”
Even when many of the other BVM sisters relocated to their headquarters in Dubuque, Iowa, a few years ago, Sister Jean chose to stay at Loyola. “I wasn’t ready to retire. I love this university and the Jesuit principles. I believe in guiding people to live a Christian life,” said Sister Jean. “We have wonderful students, and it’s fun to be with them and work with them.”
Loyola students are just as fond of Sister Jean as she is of them. Katie O’Neill, a junior human services major, has gotten to know Sister Jean particularly well by being a member of her weekly prayer group.
“Sister Jean is the most genuine, faith-filled person I know. The love that she shows for everyone she meets is unmatched. Since I’ve been at school, she’s kind of been like a second grandma for me. She’s very easy to be around and is really funny and lighthearted,” said O’Neill.
Even as a 93-year-old woman, Sister Jean is flexible and works with the schedules of college students. She hosts weekly meetings in her apartment that go as late as 11 p.m. on weeknights, even though she usually wakes up very early.
Steven Patske, a junior theology major, is another one of the countless students who has been affected by Sister Jean and noticed her dedication to Loyola students.
“Sister Jean is so generous of her time and is constantly ministering to others,” said Patske. “That says so much about her character and the passion she has for bringing God to young adults.”
Editor’s Note: Emmy Storms is a part of Sister Jean’s prayer group.