If the Loyola Ramblers were too focused on basketball during their historic run to the Final Four to really appreciate the joy they spread at the North Side campus, it will soon sink in.
“I will thank them when I see them,” said Michela Marra, 19, a classmate who hails from Turin, Italy. She was studying at the school’s student center on Easter Sunday.
“They brought so much happiness to this place,” she said.
If the team had been at Easter Sunday Mass at the school’s Madonna della Strada Chapel along the lakefront in Rogers Park, it’s easy to imagine that the service would have been twice as long because everyone in every pew would have wanted to shake the hand of each player and coach during the Sign of the Peace.
Cheering briefly filled the packed church when the Rev. Thomas Chillikulam brought the Ramblers up in his homily — using a bit of etymology to bridge the gap nonetheless.
Hallelujah, a key word in the Easter season, he explained, means ‘Praise God.’
The word Hallel is also a Hebrew word for ‘someone who has gone mad with joy,’ ” he said. “So Hallelujah is a kind of victory cry by someone who is mad with joy and cheering because Christ has won over death.”
“It’s very similar to saying: Go Ramblers!” he said.
Parishioners — including several in maroon and gold scarves — briefly erupted in laughter and cheering.
“They represented the school so well,” volunteer church usher Jim Rafferty said. “And it’s not over, that’s the beauty of it. Like Easter, it’s not over. It’s the beginning.”
Connor Cunningham, a freshman from Ohio, was studying Sunday in the school’s student center as he waited for the team’s bus to return to campus after a flight home from San Antonio, where the Ramblers lost to the University of Michigan.
“I’m going to welcome them back,” he said. “They killed it, man.”
The team’s buses returned to Loyola’s campus around 4 p.m. Sunday. Some players climbed out with long faces. Others smiled at the well-wishers who had gathered in the cold to celebrate their tournament run and welcome them home.
After everyone collected their luggage, head coach Porter Moser told reporters “We’ll take some time and sit back and kind of reflect on the journey.”
“We took some time to laugh today and we had some smiles,” Moser said. “But it’s still stinging. It still hurts. Felt like we really wanted to continue playing.”
Still, he said, there’s “a lot to be proud of.”
The campus was quiet, nearly deserted, with most students home for Easter.
But the cafeteria was open.
Trashonda Allen, a food service worker, knows the basketball players well.
They’re good eaters.
“When I see them, I’m going to tell them they did good. They worked hard. Don’t give up,” she said. “They’re really respectful kids.”