This year, we have witnessed March Madness at its best. Two #1 seeds went out the first weekend. But perhaps the most compelling story is Loyola-Chicago, a Catholic university founded in 1870, with 16,000 students. Many would say their MVP is 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
Representing the Missouri Valley Conference, the #11 seed Ramblers have lost games this season to juggernauts such as Milwaukee (not the Bucks), Missouri State, Indiana State, and Bradley (not Cooper). Yet, here they are, two more wins removed from the Final Four. The Ramblers have gone further in this tournament than such historic powerhouses as North Carolina, UCLA, and Indiana.
So what is it about this 98-year-old nun that has inspired the Ramblers? “The way she prays before games just sticks out,” said star player Clayton Custer. “In the middle of her prayers 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.”
Junior guard Marques Townes adds, “She’s the biggest Loyola basketball fan I’ve ever met in my life.”
The nun, who has been the team’s chaplain since 1994, has been inducted into Loyola-Chicago’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Before she was a nun, Sister Jean was a basketball player herself. She once taught grade school, then later joined the staff at Loyola as an academic adviser before being appointed team chaplain.
She is highly valued by the players. “Having her here blessing our team and blessing our coaching staff, giving us a warm prayer before the game, having her bless the team right before the game, it just means so much,” Townes added.
After their first-round upset over Miami, Sister Jean told The New York Times, “We prayed that God would help us. We said we would do our part and make our shots, but needed God’s assistance. We said we were going into this game with great confidence and that we wanted to win this game so badly. We said we would be careful of our shots, careful not to foul.”
Sister Jean lives in a dorm on campus, which also serves as her office.
“Anyone can walk in there, not just us,” said freshman forward Cameron Krutwig. “She’s for the whole university. She’s a celebrity around the university and everyone loves her.”
Loyola-Chicago is set for another upset, as they face off against #7 Nevada Thursday night. As for Nevada’s chances? They don’t have a prayer.