Turning 103, ‘Sister Jean’ is getting ready for another year at Loyola — dispensing advice about love, life and perfecting the free throw

Sister Jean Dolores Bertha Schmidt — or Sister Jean as she’s better known to legions of Ramblers basketball fans — celebrates her birthday Sunday.

SHARE Turning 103, ‘Sister Jean’ is getting ready for another year at Loyola — dispensing advice about love, life and perfecting the free throw
Less than a week before her 103rd birthday, Sister Jean reflects on life, love and basketball during a conversation with the Chicago Sun-Times at Loyola University on Thursday.

Less than a week before her 103rd birthday, Sister Jean reflects on life, love and basketball during a conversation with the Chicago Sun-Times at Loyola University on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Tossing out the first pitch at a Cubs home game. A new bobblehead in her honor. The unveiling of a plaque with her name on it at the Loyola University “L” stop — a day when thunderstorms are forecast.

“Maybe that will be the orchestra from heaven doing some banging around up there,” says the focus of all the attention, a tiny woman with a cherubic face. Or as her father used to tell his jittery children, “the angels rolling the barrels of beer around.”

Forgive Sister Jean Dolores Bertha Schmidt, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — or Sister Jean, as she’s better known to legions of Ramblers basketball fans — if she doesn’t quite remember all that’s planned in the days surrounding her 103rd birthday, which is Sunday.

But don’t ask her how she’s going to manage it.

“Hmmm? ... Oh, I sleep well,” she says, a flicker of surprise or perhaps irritation at the question.

And she’ll rise at 5 a.m., as she does every day, for a morning meditation, the Eucharist, a breakfast of bacon, pork sausage or perhaps a pastry.

“At this age, what difference does it make what I eat?” she says.

Three years into her second century, Sister Jean navigates the walkways and plazas at Loyola with a walker or a wheelchair for longer distances — she broke her hip a few years back and has twice-weekly therapy for it.

Is she considering slowing down a bit? Not a chance.

Come fall, her office off the Joan Steinbrecher Atrium will be open five days a week for students to pop in to share anything that’s on their minds: from civil rights issues to depression to sex.

“They fall into that chair and say, ‘I’ve had it, Sister Jean,’” says the sister, who is currently in her office only three days a week during the summer session.

When she doesn’t have an answer, she suggests the campus wellness center.

And of course, there’s her work as team chaplain for the men’s basketball team. They are playing in France at the moment. Before the team left, she recorded video messages for the team to listen to before each game.

She also sends emails to players after regular-season games with suggestions about how to tweak certain parts of their game. And she’ll be there in her wheelchair to lead the team in prayer before each home game — and to offer a scouting report on the opponents.

How does she view this year’s team’s chances?

There are a lot of unknowns, she says, including the other teams. The Ramblers are playing in a new conference this year — leaving the Missouri Valley Conference to join the Atlantic 10. But she likes how the Ramblers are playing, particularly their “fast breaks,” she says.

And she’s ready, she says, if the team goes on a run and she’s once again in the spotlight, as she was in 2018 when Loyola made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

She’s often asked to pose for pictures — with little kids, big kids, parents.

“When reporters want to talk with me, I never say no. When people want to take pictures, I never say no,” she says. “If it makes anybody happy what I do and if it’s good for the community and Loyola, I always say yes.”

Sister Jean at Loyola University, talking about her 103rd birthday this Sunday.

Sister Jean at Loyola University, talking about her 103rd birthday this Sunday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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