It came like they all do in an Indiana summer afternoon. Off on the horizon…
98-year-old Sister Jean brings faith to center court
The best column I read about Sister Jean throughout the two weeks of March Madness that she ascended into fame came from The Chicago Tribune, where reporter Shannon Ryan wrote a column headlined: “Love the Sister Jean story? Take a cue from Loyola players on how to treat the elderly.”
But let me back up in case you don’t know who I am talking about. Sister Jean Delores Schmidt is a 98-year-old member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she has been the chaplain for the men’s basketball program at Loyola University Chicago since 1994. As the Ramblers advanced in the tournament, Sister Jean elevated in prominence. As the 11-seed team went on its unlikely Cinderella run from Round 1 all the way up to the Final Four in San Antonio, Sister Jean was with them the whole way, delighting the media and, most importantly, cheering for her boys.
After the team beat Tennessee in the second round, she told a reporter: “I told them that we were going to win, that we could do it and that God would be on our side.”
When asked what advice she was going to give the team prior to the Final Four game, she responded: “I can’t tell you what I’m going to tell because I’m afraid you’re going to tell Michigan what we are going to do.”
When she was asked what it was like to be a national sensation, she responded: “Really, if I can correct you, international.”
With her feisty comments, she became an instant media darling. But there are greater lessons to be learned than those found in internet memes. And, to get back to my opening statement, the Tribune column identified an important one: the sweet relationships that the young basketball players had with the elderly Sister Jean. Wrote Ryan: “‘She’s just a wonderful person,’ junior guard Marques Townes said, beaming at the thought of her. ‘Just to have her around and her presence and her aura, when you see her, it’s just like the world is just great because her spirit and her faith in us and Loyola basketball.'”
Indeed it was heartwarming to see the young players treat Sister Jean, who lives on campus in a freshman dorm, with such tenderness and respect. So, too, was it heartening to see a woman of faith showered with praise and attention for her role with the basketball team and the Loyola community as a whole. The elderly and people of faith, as we know, aren’t always the ones who get the attention of the media in this day and age.
Following the excitement of the NCAA Tournament, the school said Sister Jean (who trended on Twitter) is taking a break from the limelight. But don’t worry, her story is not yet done. After a bit of a respite, she will begin her duties as honorary chaplain of the Washington Generals — best known as the team that has been losing to the Harlem Globetrotters since 1971. May God bless Sister Jean in this next adventure!
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter@GretchenOSV.