Loyola’s lovable celebrity: The untold story of Sister Jean

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Marques Townes celebrates with Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt after beating the Tennessee Volunteers 63-62 in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Mom called and shared the news that my grandfather might not make it to spring break. Frazzled and already running late for Loyola’s men’s basketball game, I pushed through the double doors on my way out of my dorm.

There stood Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt waiting at the light to cross Sheridan Road. She was wearing her custom “Sister Jean” Nikes and a maroon Loyola crewneck sweatshirt with her white collar popping out.

My walk turned into a brisk jog. You always want to catch up to Sister Jean.

“Hi, Sister Jean. Let me help,” I said as I reached out my arm.

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Sister Jean smiled. As the light turned green, she tightly held my arm as we slowly crossed the street together.

“How’s your family, Maddie?” she asked.

Sister Jean always knows what to say.

During my freshman year at Loyola, she became a friendly face for me, an 18-year-old coping with living more than 500 miles from home in a big, unfamiliar city. Since we both lived in Regis Hall, we occasionally would walk to men’s basketball games together.

On those walks, we would talk about everything — family, Frank Sinatra, Loyola’s next opponent. Anything.

As much as she would talk, she would intently listen. And that woman can and will remember everything you tell her.

Sister Jean has a way of making you feel at peace no matter what adversity you are facing. Her smile is a comforting serum. She makes you feel like her best friend.

It’s no surprise to any member of the Loyola community that Sister Jean has become the “international” star she is today. She has been a campuswide celebrity at Loyola for decades.

The world has fallen in love with Sister Jean’s scouting reports and dedication to the men’s basketball team. But to Loyola, Sister Jean is so much more than the 98-year-old basketball-loving nun.

Everyone has a Sister Jean story. If you went to Loyola, it’s nearly impossible to graduate without one. And if you somehow managed to do that, you missed out.

As the world knows, Sister Jean is Loyola’s No. 1 fan, but her support expands far beyond the men’s basketball team. She makes an effort to attend almost every home game for any given sport.

Brian Bement, a Loyola soccer player who graduated in 2015, remembers all the times Sister Jean would attend the Ramblers’ home games.

During the first game of his senior season, Bement cleared the ball into the crowd — where it hit Sister Jean and broke her wrist.

“I had no idea this happened until later that night and felt horrible,” Bement said.

The next day, he went to see her and apologized. Sister Jean smiled and hugged him.

“Oh, it’s OK, Brian,” Sister Jean said. “I blamed it on all those dirty Dayton players anyway. I’m just so glad you guys got the win.”

Probably 97 percent of the student body at Loyola has no affiliation with the basketball program, but most have the same consensus.

She is a living saint.

I saw Sister Jean again last week in Dallas for the first time since I graduated from Loyola last May. It was like no time had passed.

Although this time Sister Jean was in a wheelchair, she was as spirited as she always has been. Sister Jean admitted she wasn’t sure if she would ever see Loyola play in the NCAA Tournament again. But she added: “You just got to believe and have faith.”

Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.

Email: mkenney@suntimes.com

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