As she turns 104, Loyola’s Sister Jean talks AI, migrant crisis, basketball and dying

“I don’t really think about being old,” the campus celebrity who has captured the hearts of those in Chicago and beyond told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview.

SHARE As she turns 104, Loyola’s Sister Jean talks AI, migrant crisis, basketball and dying
Less than a week before her 103rd birthday, Sister Jean Dolores Bertha Schmidt, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — better known as Sister Jean — reflects on life, love and basketball during a conversation with the Chicago Sun-Times at Loyola University on the North Side, Thursday afternoon, Aug. 18, 2022.

Sister Jean turns 104 on Aug. 21.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

As she turns 104, Sister Jean Dolores Bertha Schmidt, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known simply as “Sister Jean,” believes she has more work to do.

Sure, she thinks about aging and dying.

“I think about dying a lot,” she says. “I just want to be ready when God calls me. … Heaven’s gotta be a better place than this, although I find life very enjoyable.”

She adds: “I’ll be 104 [this] week, I guess I still have more to do.”

Sister Jean sits in front of the newly renamed Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM Plaza, which sits next to the Loyola Red Line station, during Sister Jean’s 103rd birthday celebration, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Sister Jean said she eagerly awaits the arrival of students to campus for the fall semester.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

But there are other things on her mind, like artificial intelligence, the migrant crisis and, of course, basketball.

Born Aug. 21, 1919, in San Francisco, Sister Jean rose to fame in 2018 when the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team made history with its underdog run to the NCAA Final Four during March Madness. As the team’s chaplain, Sister Jean traveled around the country with the team, capturing the hearts of those in Chicago and beyond.

Sister Jean is older than the Internet, television and sliced bread. She’s seen things change quite a bit, especially in the realm of media, she says.

Less than a week before her birthday, an email from university leaders concerning artificial intelligence caught her eye.

A bobblehead of Loyola University men’s basketball chaplain and school celebrity, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, sits on display in her office on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Chicago. The beloved Catholic nun captured the world’s imagination and became something of a folk hero while supporting the Ramblers at the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

A bobblehead of Loyola University men’s basketball chaplain Sister Jean.

Jessie Wardarski/AP file

“I’m a little nervous about it because I don’t know where it’s going,” she says. “I don’t want us to become lazy intellectually because we’re not going to learn that way.”

On one hand, the development of artificial intelligence is new and exciting. But on the other hand, she’s worried about it threatening academic integrity. She remembers feeling the same way about the popularization of computers.

Much has changed in technology and media, but Sister Jean says she looks to the church for something that remains steadfast. She draws from the teachings of Pope Francis, urging people to follow his example to help others, especially the poor and migrants.

In this March 15, 2018, file photo, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, left, greets the Loyola Chicago basketball team as the Ramblers walk off the court after a win over Miami in a first-round game at the NCAA college basketball tournament in Dallas.

Sister Jean, left, greets the Loyola Chicago basketball team as the Ramblers walk off the court after a win over Miami in a first-round game at the NCAA college basketball tournament in March 2018.

Tony Gutierrez/AP file

“I think we owe it to people to be kind to them,” Sister Jean says.

The city has faced an influx of arrivals over the last year, spurred by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sending buses full of immigrants to Chicago. Migrants are desperate for shelter, food and other necessities as the city grapples with how to respond to the increased demand for those resources.

“If we look back in our own families, most of our ancestry would notify us that our grandparents or great-grandparents were all migrants … and somebody was kind to all of them,” she says.

Loyola University Chicago’s Sister Jean throws out a ceremonial pitch prior to the start of the Cubs’ home opening baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Chicago.

Loyola University Chicago’s Sister Jean throws out a ceremonial pitch at the Cubs’ home opener in 2018.

Jim Young/AP file

Sitting in her office in the student center on Loyola’s Rogers Park campus last week, Sister Jean eagerly awaits the arrival of students to campus for the fall semester.

For Sister Jean, the year ahead is an exciting one, as always. But she’s especially looking forward to having students back on campus — the impact of the pandemic emptying classrooms, lecture halls and dorms still runs deep.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt blows out the candles on her cake during her 100th birthday celebration at Damen Student Center, on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt blows out the candles on her cake during her 100th birthday celebration at Damen Student Center in 2019.

Sun-Times file

Perhaps most of all, Sister Jean is ready for basketball season.

Not only is she excited for the stands to be filled with Loyola students and Rambler fans, but she expects the team to be in top shape after three-hour practices and being able to retain some of their seniors who received an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.

In coming days, she’ll celebrate her birthday with a ceremonial first pitch at the Chicago Cubs game Aug. 28 and festivities at Loyola’s annual block party on its downtown campus Aug. 31.

With so many different things on her mind, one thing is not.

“I don’t really think about being old,” she says.

The Latest
Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale was named the MVP after scoring 34 points, all of which came in the second half and were the most points scored in a WNBA All-Star Game.
Tamia Washington, 18, is charged with robbery. She joins four adolescents — ages 11, 14, 15 and 16 — who are charged with aggravated battery and robbery stemming from the July 8 attack on a man in the Loop.
De La Soul brought their signature energy, Chicago’s Kara Jackson brought the prose and more reviews from Union Park.
The Cubs sit at 47-53 with a negative run differential as their playoff chances continue to dwindle.