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Sister Jean: The ‘everyday hero’

Students, faculty and alumni of Loyola are trying to get Sister Jean onto The Ellen DeGeneres Show to recognize her for the everyday hero that they see her as. Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago
Students, faculty and alumni of Loyola are trying to get Sister Jean onto The Ellen DeGeneres Show to recognize her for the everyday hero that they see her as. Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago
Students, faculty and alumni of Loyola are trying to get Sister Jean onto The Ellen DeGeneres Show to recognize her for the everyday hero that they see her as.
Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

As she makes her way down the intercampus shuttle line, she brings a smile to the face of every person she greets. She serves as the chaplain of the men’s basketball team, hosts a weekly prayer group and regularly attends small- and large-scale events on campus. She is by no means a stranger to the Loyola community.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, otherwise known as “Sister Jean,” is identified by many in the Loyola community as an “everyday hero.” Now Loyola wants to share the difference she has made in the lives of so many Ramblers by recognizing her on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in a segment that features the inspirational stories of everyday heroes just like Sister Jean.

The Ellen show often features everyday people who others see as heroes but who might not recognize it themselves.  In the past, DeGeneres has recognized a variety of people whom others have nominated.  To name a few, she recognized a woman from California who won Teacher of the Year in 2012, a mother from Indiana who lost both of her legs while shielding her sons from the debris of her collapsing house, and the founder of TOMS, Blake Mycoskie, according to ellentv.com.

Including her time at Mundelein College, Sister Jean has worked at Loyola for 53 years, she said. In September 2012, the 94-year-old celebrated her 75th anniversary of entering the Sisters of Charity, Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM).  Between her various responsibilities and the time she spends with students, Sister Jean said she is also employed as a receptionist at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center where she works twice a week and has since 1994.  She’s constantly on the move, but the time she spends interacting with the estimated 3,000 students who travel between campuses daily is her favorite part of the day, she said.

Maeve Kiley, director of communications in University Marketing Communications (UMC), has been heavily involved in encouraging students, faculty, staff and alumni to share their stories with DeGeneres. Kiley said she and her team in media relations have decided to use social media to get Sister Jean on the show, she said.

“What we’re doing next week is posting a video, and then we sent an email, as well, to the producers,” Kiley said. “We’re hoping a lot of people will post on the Ellen Facebook as well.  We’re hoping other people can articulate why she is [an everyday hero].”

Kiley sees this as an opportunity to share with a wider audience exactly how Sister Jean makes a difference within the Loyola community.

“She’s an icon; she’s the epitome of what the most inspirational person is,” Kiley said. “She’s the most caring and thoughtful and giving lady on campus. She always thinks of other people before herself.

Sister Jean had no knowledge of any of this until a month ago, when UMC  approached her with the idea to get her on Ellen, she said.

“If I understand why they even did that, it’s because I spend so much time with the students,” Sister Jean said. “I’m an ordinary person, I try to bring people to lead extraordinary lives, but I just consider myself to be very ordinary. I chat with students, I help them when they need help, sometimes they come in [my office], and otherwise they just talk to me in the [shuttle] line.

“Whatever is best for Loyola and whatever is best for my community, I will do,” she added.

The Rev. Patrick Dorsey, director of Sacramental Life, was first introduced to Sister Jean seven years ago when he was hired at Loyola. She helped him in understanding the history of Madonna della Strada Chapel, filled in [at chapel] wherever was necessary and in general was always present and there to help, he said.

“An everyday hero for me, it’s someone who lives a life as an everyday person,” Dorsey said. “It’s not anything that is done in a spectacular way, but rather, it’s done in a common and natural way that reveals who they truly are. I think a given person has a presence you can count on that is welcoming and inviting and embraces life in such a way that invites you to be who you are as well.”

By these standards, Sister Jean deserves to be recognized, according to Dorsey.

“She recognizes where people are at. She understands the human condition,” he said.

He spoke specifically of Students Moving Into the Lives of the Elderly (SMILE), a program Sister Jean created in 2009, in which students volunteer to pair up and spend time with the residents of The Clare, according to Dorsey. The Clare (55 East Pearson St.) is an apartment building for the elderly with varying levels of care, he said. It is located at the Water Tower Campus in the same building as the School of Communication.

“People there move to the city to get rid of their houses; they’re in the midst of everything, but they’re not really — they’ve lost the connection with people,” Dorsey said. The program gives residents of The Clare a chance to connect with young people and the chance to do things they might not otherwise be able to do, according to Dorsey.

“The energy with which she goes through life and embraces it and is present to people is inspiring and encouraging,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an elderly person in a high-rise or student standing in a bus line; she is available to them and is always trying to serve them in whatever way they may need at the moment.”

Students’ voices echoed Dorsey’s words. Victoria Hagan, 19, said she would love to see Sister Jean on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“Even if she doesn’t know you, she’ll come up and talk to you. I remember last year during finals I was walking to the IC with my books and she stopped me an gave me a big pep talk and then said, ‘You’re going to do great!’ It was the nicest thing,” said the sophomore psychology major.

Sam Scissom, an international business major, said she sees Sister Jean as someone who makes a difference in people’s lives just by being herself.

“She goes out of her way to make every student’s day and make every student on Loyola’s campus feel special,” said the 20-year-old sophomore.

Sister Jean said she would love the opportunity to be on the show and talk with DeGeneres, whom she believes to be an everyday hero herself.

“If I get to talk to Ellen,” Sister Jean said, “she herself has done so much good for people in this world, and I don’t know that people know that. I would just like to thank her for the good that she does.”

Kiley says that around March Madness she and her team will make a push to get Sister Jean on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as well.

If you consider Sister Jean to be an “everyday hero” and would like to help get her featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, you can Facebook or tweet at @TheEllenShow or submit your story about Sister Jean through Ellen’s website, ellentv.com. Also, email umcsocialmedia@luc.edu if you have a particularly inspirational story you would like to share, and you may be featured in the video that will be sent to Ellen’s producers.

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