ROGERS PARK — Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt will join the Loyola basketball team in Indianapolis for the March Madness tournament, reversing a decision that had threatened to keep the beloved team chaplain from the tournament, university leaders said Tuesday.
Loyola’s men’s basketball team is once again playing in the March Madness tournament, three years after their Final Four run propelled Sister Jean to national stardom. But this year’s tournament is under stringent coronavirus protocols that were going to keep Sister Jean from traveling with the team for the start of the tournament this week.
After meeting with Loyola officials, Sister Jean said she convinced the school to let her travel to Indianapolis to watch the Ramblers on Friday.
“I just waited for the day they’d say ‘yes,'” Sister Jean said at a press conference Tuesday. “I don’t want to go for myself. I want to be present for the team, president for [head coach] Porter [Moser].”
Sister Jean said she will travel to Indianapolis for Loyola’s game at 3 p.m. Friday against Georgia Tech. She will be under strict safety and health precautions, she said.
Whereas Sister Jean was an on-court presence during Loyola’s 2018 run to the Final Four, she will not be allowed on the court or to have physical interaction with players. Players’ families even can’t interact with their kids during the duration of the tournament, she said.
Sister Jean will have a security team and a nurse during her stay in Indianapolis, she said. She will stay in a hotel and receive room service. She will be in attendance for games, but it is not clear if she will sit in stands or in a box suite.
“To my thinking, there’s no danger,” Sister Jean said. “I’m not going to cause any disturbances.”
Sister Jean became a nationally known figure when the Loyola Ramblers made it to the Final Four of the college basketball tournament after starting as a significant underdog. As team chaplain, Sister Jean became a figurehead for the team during its Cinderella run in the tournament.
The news of her being kept from this year’s tournament led some college basketball fans to start a “Free Sister Jean” campaign on social media.
Sister Jean turned 101 in August. As the most famous person on Loyola’s campus, Sister Jean took an active role in reassuring students during the pandemic and asking them to follow coronavirus protocols.
The pandemic has confined Sister Jean to her apartment near Loyola’s River North campus for much of the last year. Sister Jean has not visited the Rogers Park campus since March 11, 2020 and last saw a Loyola basketball game in-person that same month, she said.
“It’s been lonely without seeing them, because I used to be free to go to practice, games,” she said.
Sister Jean has stayed in touch with the team during this year’s 24-4 season. She holds pre-game Zoom meetings where she prays with the players and hosts post-game sessions to discuss the game and give encouragement to players who didn’t make it off the bench, she said.
The team chaplain is also a serious basketball fan and team scout. She said Loyola’s Friday opponent — Georgia Tech — is taller than Loyola, but she said size doesn’t account for everything.
“They’re really big fellows,” she said. “We hope they’ll be a little clumsy.”
Sister Jean has Loyola going to the Elite 8 this year, and even beating the University of Illinois in the process. She is hoping her Ramblers — with some help from their beloved team chaplain — can entertain and thrill the nation, just as they did three years ago.
“I hope we do the same thing now,” Sister Jean said. “Now, we need something happy more than we did in 2018.”
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