Beloved Sister Jean turns 104

Sister Jeans 104th birthday prompts celebrations around Loyola campuses through the week following Aug. 21.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM celebrated her 104th birthday Aug. 21, prompting festivities at Loyola’s Water Tower campus and in Chicago during the first week of classes. 

Celebrations began Aug. 28 when Schmidt threw the first pitch of the Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee Brewers game at Wrigley Field, according to Loyola spokesperson Matt McDermott.

President Mark C. Reed also attended the game with Schmidt.

“I have many Sister Jean memories that are favorites but really being on the field with her Monday at Wrigley Field — that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Reed said to The Phoenix.

Celebrations for the week concluded at the Water Tower Campus block party where students gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” to Schmidt, according to the press release. 

Dean of Arrupe College Father Thomas Neitzke made a short speech introducing Schmidt before leading the crowd in singing.

“Today’s block party is very special, because we get to celebrate a treasure of Loyola University, and that treasure, of course, is our own Sister Jean,” Neitzke said. “Sister Jean’s a treasure not only to us but to the city of Chicago, to the United States, to the world.”

The Loyola University Museum of Art was also open all throughout the week with a special exhibit on Schmidt, including art pieces in celebration of her and history about her life. This was the second year the university opened a LUMA exhibit in honor of Schmidt, and celebrated her at the block party. 

Schmidt was the first of three children born to Bertha and Joseph in San Francisco, the exhibit said. She was born Aug 21, 1919.

The exhibit said Schmidt’s family had both a Florida alligator and a South American monkey as pets.

In September 1937, Schmidt left her home in San Francisco and traveled to Dubuque, Iowa, in order to participate in a six month long program as a postulant with the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the exhibit explained and a timeline posted online said. 

“God comes first, study and all those wonderful things that you want to do as a college student,” Schmidt said. “Use your time well, study hard.”

In 1961, Schmidt started teaching at the women-only Mundelein College in Chicago and was named acting dean in 1970, according to the timeline. 30 years later in 1991, she joined Loyola as an assistant dean and an academic adviser after Mundelein became affiliated with the university, the timeline said.

Schmidt began working with the men’s and women’s basketball teams in 1994 to help players keep up their grades during the basketball season, according to the timeline. In 1996, she became the official team chaplain to the men’s basketball team.

During the men’s basketball team’s final four run in 2018 March Madness, Schmidt was the face of the team and became an “international celebrity,” according to the timeline.

For her 103rd birthday, Governor JB Pritzker and former Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot named the plaza outside the Loyola red line in her honor, The Phoenix previously reported. 

This story was written by Lilli Malone and Hunter Minnè

Featured image by Aidan Cahill / The Loyola Phoenix

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff