Courtside with Sister Jean

Shoes saying Sister Jean on the back

When the Loyola Chicago men’s basketball team is looking for guidance both on and off the court, this 98-year-old sister provides it.

Rock star. Icon. Living legend. These are just some of the words used to describe Sister Jean Schmidt, the 98-year-old chaplain of Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team and a member of the university’s sports hall of fame.

The 5-foot nun can be seen at every home game for the men’s team. She’s most often decked out in Loyola gear and wearing her trademark maroon Nike tennis shoes with gold laces that have “Sister” stitched onto the heel of her left shoe and “Jean” stitched on the right one. Everyone on campus knows Sister Jean. The door to her office in the Student Center is always open. She lives in a dorm with 400 undergraduate students and serves as their chaplain. When she comes onto the court to lead an opening prayer at games, students often cheer, “Sis-ter Jean! Sis-ter Jean!”

Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played basketball growing up and was on her high school team from 1933 to 1936. In 1937, at age 18, she joined the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Iowa. She taught in elementary schools and also volunteered as a coach in Los Angeles public schools when she was teaching in that city.

In 1961, Sister Jean took a teaching job at Mundelein College, a women’s college that would merge with Loyola University Chicago in 1991. Just a few years later, in 1994, Sister Jean became chaplain of the men’s basketball team.

She takes her job seriously. After games, she e-mails each player, pointing out what they did well and what they can work on. When Loyola Coach Porter Moser took the job in 2011, one of the first people he heard from was Sister Jean, who gave him a scouting report of all the players.

Before home games, Sister Jean waits for the team and sits on a bench near the entrance to the court, where the players come in. Students stop by to say hello. Referees come over to hug her. During games, she sits up behind the home bench, intently watching the action. Before their final warm-up, Sister Jean gathers the young men in a circle, all of their arms linked together, and prays with the whole team.

“I love every one of [the players],” Sister Jean says. “I talk about the game to them, and then they go out and play.”

In addition to the team, Sister Jean also leads the entire crowd in a prayer before tipoff.

Prayer is important, she says. “I always pray that we don’t get injured, that we play with great sportsmanship, and that we be respectful toward each other. I think that’s very important.”

Should we pray to win? “Sure. We pray to win because we’re in competition. When you’re in competition, you want to win,” she says. “If that’s the way God wants it, it’s fine.”

Subscribe to St. Anthony Messenger magazine!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to St. Anthony Messenger!