ROGERS PARK — Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt has never seen a year like 2020.
The Loyola University chaplain known nationally as Sister Jean will celebrate her 101st birthday Friday with a virtual party, as Loyola begins the year with closed dormitories and most classes taking place online.
“It sounds like a freshman course: Sister Jean 1-0-1,” she said. “It feels good. Every day I wake up and thank God for another day.
“I never thought I’d see anything like this,” Sister Jean said of the coronavirus.
Fall sports have been moved to the spring, and her beloved men’s basketball season’s fate has yet to be determined. Sister Jean is staying socially distant in her apartment on Loyola’s Gold Coast campus, but she will still play a central role in student’s lives this year.
She will help welcome freshman to campus Friday with a taped main message to students. And with winter sports and normal campus life hanging in the balance, Sister Jean has a pointed message for students: “no parties.”
“Don’t have any, and don’t disappoint me,” she said.
As the chaplain of the Loyola men’s basketball team, Sister Jean rose to national prominence when the Ramblers went to the 2018 Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Sister Jean is as much a chaplain as a team figurehead and scout. While leading the team in prayer, she is also known to offer observations about the opponent’s best free-throw shooters and rebounders.
Sister Jean is hopeful a basketball season will be played this year, and said that Loyola’s team is the “deepest” it’s been in years.
“I have great faith it going to happen,” she said. “Our young men want to get back to the dance floor so badly.”
Sister Jean began teaching at Mundelein College, Loyola’s now-defunct sister school, in 1961 and has never left. She became the basketball team chaplain in 1996.
Originally from San Francisco, Sister Jean was born in 1919, when the Spanish Flu pandemic was still raging.
Like today, schools were closed during the Spanish Flu. Catholic nuns, without classes to teach, were asked to go into their neighborhoods and help families struggling through the pandemic, she said. For their troubles, the city let them ride the streetcar for free.
“People did what they were supposed to do: they stayed home,” she said of the Spanish Flu.
There are parallels from the Spanish Flu to the coronavirus outbreak, but the pandemic is posing new challenges for Sister Jean and her beloved Loyola. Still, she is determined to help see the campus through the road ahead.
“From this pandemic, something good will come of it,” she said. “I just believe we’re going to be more friendly to each other.”
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