Loyola Red Line plaza renamed for ‘world famous’ Sister Jean on her 103rd birthday
During a dedication Sunday, Sister Jean greeted fans, accepted gifts and hobnobbed with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “I just love being at Loyola,” she said.
When new students step off the Red Line to make their way to Loyola University Chicago’s Rogers Park campus, they’ll be greeted with a reminder of the school’s most recognizable figure.
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated her 103rd birthday on Sunday with a clout-heavy bash and a dedication at the Loyola Red Line plaza, which was renamed in her honor. The area is now marked by a large sign as the “Home of the world famous Sister Jean.”
She greeted fans, accepted gifts and hobnobbed with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).
“She really kind of ascended kind of the craziness and the fun of March Madness and just was this icon for goodness,” Lightfoot said. “Sister Jean, I think, really awakened the spirit in the city.”
Sister Jean first rose to fame during the Loyola men’s basketball team’s historic 2018 NCAA tournament run, when it smashed the odds and busted brackets en route to the Final Four. While she has long been a celebrity on campus, Sister Jean has more recently cemented herself as a widely known symbol of both the school and the city.
“We showed her the copy for the plaque,” said Jane Neufeld, who works in Loyola’s advancement office and used to head student development. “It said ‘national celebrity.’ She corrected us to say ‘world famous.’”
When asked what she’s looking forward to in the upcoming school year, Sister Jean’s answer was simple: “Just being with the students. I just love being at Loyola.”
Sister Jean, who has credited her long life to prayer and sleeping well, spoke and prayed at each student orientation ahead of the school year, Neufeld said. To quell the nerves of students and parents bracing for a new chapter, she told a story about a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, saying that represents what would happen to young students during their time at Loyola.
“She loves company,” Neufeld said. “Students come and talk to her a lot.”
Sister Jean’s office in the school’s student center has an open-door policy, and she meets with students five days a week during the school year and three days a week throughout the summer.
“All this attention,” Neufeld said, gesturing to the packed plaza, balloons, Loyola cheerleaders and maroon-and-gold scarves, “she loves it.”
Perhaps no group of students is closer to Sister Jean than the men’s basketball team. As its chaplain, Sister Jean routinely prays before games, advises players on footwork and running plays and ends nearly every speech by saying, “Go Ramblers.”
So what’s in store for this season?
New challenges will undoubtedly come with the Ramblers joining the Atlantic 10 Conference after years in the Missouri Valley Conference. But Sister Jean said she’s optimistic.
“We’re just going to work hard,” she told the Sun-Times. “We’re going to put our best foot forward and do everything we possibly can.”