At 5 feet tall, her head barely comes to the chests of the members of Loyola’s men’s basketball team, but Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, BVM, doesn’t let that intimidate her.
For the last 20 years, the 95-year-old has been the team’s chaplain. She prays with them before games, attends practices and even doles out a few pointers.
“Now, the prayers don’t always sound very holy,” Sister Jean said of her pre-game duties. “I’m not supposed to tell them how to play, but I sort of tell them to just watch whatever numbers are playing the best.”
While her own basketball career never made it beyond high school, Sister Jean used to coach eighth grade girl’s basketball at St. Charles Borromeo School in North Hollywood, California. She also spent time coaching volleyball, track, softball, ping-pong and yo-yo.
Sister Jean, a San Francisco native, taught in southern California for two decades before moving to the Midwest for an administrative position at the Catholic, all-women’s Mundelein College in 1961. She watched Loyola’s 1963 NCAA win on a small black-and-white T V.
Soon after Mundelein merged with Loyola in 1991, Sister Jean chose to retire, but she couldn’t keep herself from working. The Loyola president at the time, Raymond C. Baumhart, S.J., asked her to work with the men’s and women’s basketball teams to make sure they stayed on top of their schoolwork.
“I called myself the booster shooter because I wasn’t their tutor, but I was there to see that they followed their schedules,” Sister Jean said.
Her stint as an academic adviser for the team didn’t last long, though. When the previous chaplain, a Jesuit priest, retired in 1994, Sister Jean took on the position.
There are no numbers on how many universities nationwide have chaplains, but Sister Jean stresses that she’s the only female chaplain for a men’s college basketball team.
“She’s a sweetheart,” said junior Devon Turk, a 20-year-old shooting guard on the team. “She plays a big role. Seeing her around is motivation at heart.”
Turk, like many Loyola students, said that he often sees Sister Jean downtown when he’s waiting for the intercampus shuttle bus. There, she catches up with the players and, if the shuttle is running late, reminds them to text Coach Porter Moser to tell him they’ll be late for practice.
“When I came [to Loyola], I was glad she was here,” Turk said. “I don’t know what my experience would be like without her.”
For Sister Jean, the team is more than just a group of young men.
“They’re my friends,” she said. “I can say anything to them, and they can say anything to me.”
At the same time, Sister Jean said she tries to act as a guide for the men. After each game, she sends out emails to both the players and the coaches. Along with some kind words and encouragement, she’ll add tips such as “keep your head up.”
Through all her responsibilities, Sister Jean focuses on the team’s athletic development as well as its educational and personal development.
“It helps me to say that I’m doing something that’s my passion but also helping them with their future, because they’re not going to be basketball players all of their lives,” she said.
In her apartment in Regis Hall, Sister Jean has a photo of herself with five players that was taken a few years ago. Today, those five men have moved on but have kept in touch. Three of them are playing basketball internationally; one is working as a sports manager for a team in California; and the fifth is an accountant in Chicago.
She keeps the photo as a reminder.
“So, there is life after basketball,” she said.
For her, though, basketball continues. Despite turning 95 years young on Aug. 21, now known as Sister Jean Day on-campus, she has shown no signs of moving on from the sport.
A new basketball season is fast approaching, and students should expect to see the chaplain perusing the sidelines of Gentile Arena, cheering on her favorite basketball team.
In addition to being the basketball chaplain, Sister Jean is an avid fan of all Loyola athletics.
This past weekend, at the Aug. 30 men’s soccer game against Dayton University, a rogue ball hit Sister Jean, and her hand was broken. Despite her personal loss, the Ramblers were victorious over the Flyers in a 2-0 decision.