A century of heart and soul: Loyola and the world come together to celebrate Sister Jean’s 100th birthday
An international celebrity turns 100 years old.
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt’s head was barely visible behind the large sheet cake that sat on the table in front of her. But her smile was prevalent on Wednesday.
With the 1-0-0 candles burning, Sister Jean was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by a large crowd — which included Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Lt. Gov.Juliana Stratton and many other Chicago politicians — in the Damen Student Center.
When the crowd went silent, she closed her eyes and blew out the candles. Then, she smiled as the audience roared and waved plastic pompoms.
What could she possibly wish for her 100th birthday?
One would assume for Loyola to win another national title.
It’ll go down as the party of the century — at least in Sister Jean’s eyes.
“It’s been a wonderful day,” she said.
Sister Jean, the Loyola men’s basketball chaplain, had already been surprised with a 2 1⁄2-foot-tall lookalike Lego statue, but little did she know the best surprises were yet to come.
Loyola president Jo Ann Rooney announced that the university will match an alum’s $250,000 donation to create the Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt BVM endowment scholarship fund. She also announced that more than $30,000 had been raised for Sister Jean’s “Worship, work, win” athletic endowment.
Pritzker also had a special honor for the basketball-loving nun, proclaiming Aug. 21, 2019, “Sister Jean Day.”
Shortly after Pritzker and several other guests spoke, a star-studded video tribute was projected onto two large screens behind the stage. Sister Jean watched intently with a large smile on her face as several celebrities — including NBA legend Charles Barkley, Bears owner Virginia McCaskey and Cubs manager Joe Maddon — showered her with praise.
CBS Sports reporter Jim Nantz, who’s been covering March Madness since 1991,called the new centenarian his all-time favorite story in the NCAA tournament, and Dick Vitale had one of the most enthusiastic messages in the entire video.
“You are awesome, baby!” Vitale said. “Your enthusiasm is contagious. … You’ve brought joy to so many people.”
Sister Jean, who didn’t see the video before the event, was overwhelmed by the messages.
“When I heard all those things, I thought to myself, ‘I have a lot more to live up to so I better live a little longer,’” she said.
Sister Jean, who rose to “international” stardom during the Ramblers’ historic Final Four run in 2018, has been a beloved fixture at Loyola for decades. So it should come as little surprise that she spent the hours leading up to her birthday bash surrounded by anxious incoming students who were part ofLoyola’s final orientation session before classes start next week. She told them to be themselves and enjoy the Loyola experience. She also encouraged them to find joy in the little things every day.
“In order to have an impact on people we have to be happy ourselves,” she said.
Happiness is Sister Jean’s secret ingredient to a fulfilling life.
“Some days, you’re going to have sad days,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our joy. We can still have that.”
Sister Jean also stressed that prayer is another important part to living a joyful life. She encouraged people to take advantage of life opportunities and to travel more.
“Some people say, ‘We’re saving our money so we can travel when we’re older,’” she said. “Don’t wait too long ... Prices keep going up.”
Sister Jean’s celebration will continue through the next week. It’ll conclude Aug. 29 with Loyola’s annual Water Tower Campus block party.
“What they’re going to do? I don’t know,” Sister Jean said. “They say, ‘Just save the date, Sister Jean, and come.’”
After such a hectic and fun-filled few weeks, how will Sister Jean outdo this celebration for her 101st birthday?
“I can’t jump the gun too fast,” Sister Jean said. “I just have to take it one day at a time, and that doesn’t mean I don’t have to plan for the future. I still have to plan for the future.”