Loyola’s beloved 98-year-old men’s basketball chaplain returned to the men’s game against Missouri State University Feb. 3 for the first time since her accident about three months ago.
On Nov. 14, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt was catching an Uber back to Loyola from a doctor’s appointment when she fell off the curb and broke her hip bone and femur.
The next day, Sister Jean underwent surgery at Illinois Masonic Medical Center. She had two pins put into her leg as well as a titanium rod.
Shortly after the surgery and recovery, Sister Jean was taken to live at The Clare, a senior independent living facility adjacent to Loyola’s Water Tower Campus, where she began rehabilitation. Sister Jean chose to stay at The Clare because of her close connection through the Students Moving Into Lives of Elderly Program, a partnership she runs between Loyola students and residents of The Clare.
On Jan. 27, she was cleared to return to her residence in Regis Hall, where she has home health care and is undergoing physical and occupational therapy.
She’s been using a wheelchair to get around, but she said she’s beginning to make progress while using a walker.
“It’s amazing to me how the fall has impacted my life. I have to learn how to walk again,” Sister Jean said. “I have never had any pain with this surgery, so I am very fortunate there.”
She acknowledged how her age has also affected her recovery.
“It’s taking me a long time [to recover] but I have to remember that I’m 98, not 65,” Sister Jean said. “It makes me feel so good to be back here.”
Sister Jean was greatly missed by many, including the student body and the athletics department.
Sarah Yun, a first-year student, said, “I’m extremely excited to have her back on campus because she just emits this positive energy whenever she walks into a room.”
Sister Jean also missed being around Loyola’s campus.
“Of course I was thinking about all the students here, and how much I missed all of you and I was thinking of all the fans at the basketball game, and of course thinking of the team too,” Sister Jean said.
Sister Jean began teaching at Mundelein College in 1961 and worked there for 30 years until Mundelein’s affiliation with Loyola in 1991. Since then, she’s had academic advising and campus ministry roles, in addition to most recently becoming a chaplain to Regis Hall residents and the men’s basketball team.
Sister Jean was inducted into the athletics department’s Hall of Fame last year. She’s vital to every pre-game ritual, where she says two separate prayers: one with the team, and one with fans to protect both teams. While she was absent during recovery, the athletics department recorded Sister Jean’s prayers and used an audio recording before each game.
Steve Watson, the director of athletics at Loyola, described the impact Sister Jean’s absence has on the department.
“When she’s not around, there is definitely a void,” Watson said. “The past few months have been difficult for our coaches, and athletes and all of us.”
In her time away from campus, Sister Jean watched the play-by-play of every men’s basketball game on her iPad while making sure to keep a close following on the team’s progress this season.
“I’m so proud of our young men and what they are doing,” Sister Jean said. “I hope our fellas keep it up.”
Clayton Custer, a redshirt junior guard, said Sister Jean is part of what gets the team fired up. The team was thrilled to see her back at Gentile Arena on Saturday.
“She’s our rock,” Custer said. “To see her in the crowd [on Saturday], I think it gave us a little extra energy.”
Although Sister Jean spends a lot of time supporting the basketball team, she’s a mentor for all 220 athletes, in addition to a friend many in the athletics department can confide in.
“It’s not just men’s basketball … [She’s] someone that our coaches and athletes and all of athletics can really count on and lean on. She’s great with advice for all of us,” Watson said. “She has her presence at our department meetings, she opens all of our meetings with a prayer.”
While extremely passionate and knowledgeable about sports, Sister Jean’s involvement and love for the Loyola community extends beyond Norville Athletic Center.
“She has developed relationships with people here on campus that you wouldn’t believe,” Watson said.
Her office is centrally located in the Damen Student Center, which enables her to be fully immersed in student life.
“Damen is such a hub of activity all the time. It’s a really nice place to be, to see students coming and going,” Sister Jean said.
The students described how she makes a huge impact around campus. On Tuesday nights, Sister Jean hosts a prayer group in her residence for students. She also does things for students like passing out prayer cards during finals week. Sister Jean can be spotted around campus wearing a red blazer and personalized running shoes that read “Sister Jean” on the back.
“She brings life into the student center and the campus.” Nick Morales, a senior student employee at the Damen Desk said.
Sister Jean said she hopes she can make it to the Damen Student Center to interact with students once again, if the weather permits her to use her walker or to be wheeled in her wheelchair.
Marissa Morton, a junior student employee at the Damen Desk, said Sister Jean spends plenty time at the Damen Desk engaging with the student employees.
“She always comes by the desk and is so excited to hear about our lives,” Morton said. “She really talks to us and gets a feel for what us students are going through.”
Tom Hitcho, senior associate athletic director and personal friend of Sister Jean, has worked with Loyola Athletics for more than 40 years and described how Sister Jean’s positive attitude has been reflected in her recovery.
“She’s always had a positive mental attitude to work hard and she never gave up,” Hitcho said. “She had a goal, and her goal was to get back to campus and be involved in campus life and support the students, staff and faculty.”
Sister Jean said the immense support she’s received from the student body has helped motivate her to work hard in rehab.
Many members of the Loyola community sent flowers and cards while she was in the hospital.
“At Illinois Masonic I had so many plants and so many bouquets of flowers [the medical team] said they liked to come into my room because it smelled so good all the time,” Sister Jean said. “People gave me candy, students sent me cards.”
She said she’s grateful for all the support she’s received from the community.
“I appreciate people’s concern and their prayers and their good wishes all the time,” Sister Jean said. “It just made me so happy to be part of the Loyola community, in such a loving and caring community. I’m overwhelmed with all of it.”