Home News A 98-Year-Old Nun Steals the Show at the NCAA Tournament

A 98-Year-Old Nun Steals the Show at the NCAA Tournament

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The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers haven’t made a NCAA Final Four appearance since 1963 but the biggest story out of the college arguably could be Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the team’s 98-year-old chaplain.

With each tournament win by the 11th seeded Ramblers, Sister Jean’s notoriety has grown.

Bill Behrns, Loyola’s basketball sports information director, estimates that he received “at least” 15 interview requests for Sister Jean this week, and that doesn’t count other interviews that he might not have known about, likely bringing the number closer to 20. The New York Times profiled her earlier this week.

Her name became a popular topic on Twitter, to the point that even former President Barack Obama gave her a shoutout.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after the Ramblers’ thrilling victory to advance to the Final Four, she fielded one interview after another at the team hotel. During a brief stretch on Friday afternoon, she did three interviews in succession: one with a television crew, a one-on-one with ESPN.com then a phone interview with the Washington Post.

She has become so popular and synonymous with the team that Loyola-Chicago officials licensed her name and image.

Sister Jean is not a fair weather fan who has come alongside the Ramblers in the midst of a championship run. She’s been following the team since 1961. That was the year she took a teaching job at an all-women’s Catholic school, Mundelein College, which neighbored Loyola. While preparing young women to teach in Chicago’s public and Catholic schools, she attended athletic events at both Mundelein and Loyola. She remembers when Loyola won the 1963 men’s basketball national championship over Cincinnati in an overtime buzzer-beater. She watched a tape-delayed broadcast of the game on an 11-inch black-and-white television.

Sports have always been a part of Sister Jean’s life. She was born in 1919 and played basketball at her San Francisco high school in the 1930s. Back then, the game was more similar to soccer. The court was divided into three sections for women, with no player being allowed to traverse the whole court, and only certain ones allowed to shoot.

In 1991, Mundelein merged with Loyola and three years later Sister Jean became the Rambler’s chaplain. Her prayers with the team before the game are a mixture of pleas for divine help and coaching tips. Junior guard Clayton Custer told ESPN, “The way she prayed just stuck out. In the middle of her prayer there’s a scouting report mixed in. She tells us who their best players are and what to watch out for. Sometimes she’ll pray for the referee to make the right calls. And at the end, she’ll literally pray that we come out on top.”

Before Loyola home games she stands on the court with a microphone and reads her pre-game prayer. At a recent game against Bradley University she prayed “that both teams play with respect toward each other and strive to put into practice what they have learned from their coaches.”

She continued, with no attempt to hide her Loyola loyalty: “We Ramblers are asking you, our God, to give us a good start, to earn points early in the game, so that we can slow the pace as the game clock ticks away. We ask also that the numbers at the sound of the final buzzer indicate a big ‘W’ for the Ramblers.”

Sister Jean prays that there are no injuries and blesses the fans, cheerleaders and bands. Lastly, “please help the referees to call the game with precision for each team. Amen. And Go Ramblers.”

Sister Jean also supports the team in less public ways. She sends email notes to players with words of wisdom and encouragement. By all accounts, she has made an indelible mark on the team’s young men.  

The players have displayed her words “Worship, work, win” in the team’s weight room. Another saying that is prominently displayed on a wall outside the Rambler’s arena is a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola that coach Porter Moser feels “exemplifies” Sister Jean: “Go forth and set the world on fire.”

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Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.