Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt blows out birthday candles during a celebration of her 100th birthday on Wednesday at Loyola University-Chicago.
Lukas Keapproth – Loyola University Chicago
Bill Behrns’ official title at Loyola University-Chicago may be the assistant athletic director for communications, but for the past two years, he has been one of a few people charged with officially keeping track of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
While Sister Jean has been the men’s basketball chaplain at Loyola since 1994, she has held the title of international celebrity for the past 1 ½ years after she – then at age 98 – became the face of the Ramblers program that made a shocking run to the 2018 Final Four.
So when Sister Jean turned 100 on Wednesday, it came as no surprise that Loyola held a first-class celebration. University president Jo Ann Rooney announced that a Loyola alumnus has donated $250,000 to create the Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt Endowed Scholarship Fund and that the school would match the donation.
In addition, the university had previously announced the creation of the Worship, Work, Win fund to help raise money for athletics with a goal being set for the fund of $100,000 – more than $30,000 of which had been raised as of Wednesday.
But when asked if the school had every calculated how much money Sister Jean has helped to generate for Loyola since the Ramblers’ NCAA Tournament run, Behrns acknowledged that coming up with such a figure wouldn’t exactly be easy.
“It would be very hard to quantify,” Behrns wrote in an email. “And I’m not sure if (the school) could quantify it, if our advancement folks would even release that figure.”
Even without a specific dollar amount, one thing is clear. Sister Jean’s value to her university community — and beyond – has been immeasurable.
Sister Jean’s centennial celebration on Wednesday brought congratulatory messages from everyone from CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz to Chicago Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, Cubs manager Joe Maddon, NCAA President Mark Emmert and others – all of whom were part of a nine-minute video tribute.
Nantz called Sister Jean his favorite NCAA Tournament story of all time while Maddon admitted he has a very specific reason for keeping his Sister Jean bobblehead on his desk in his office at Wrigley Field.
“I kind of talk to you once in a while looking for some good vibes from our heavenly source,” Maddon says in the video.
Sister Jean, who was not aware of who would be part of the tribute video, took all of the kind words as a challenge to – of course – keep living life as she has come to know it.
“I thought to myself (during the video) ‘I have a lot more to live up to so I better live a little longer,” she said on Wednesday.
But while Sister Jean has seen her celebrity only grow since being introduced to the world last year, she has not lost sight of her the purpose she believes God has given her as a dean at Loyola. Despite a variety of health challenges and being confined to a wheelchair, Sister Jean maintains an open-door policy in her office inside Loyola’s student center.
She told Loyola’s student newspaper that she does so because she wants to know students’ stories and, as she told the paper, “I want to live just as much as I can,” she said.
Sister Jean, who comes from a family tradition of longevity, doesn’t consider herself to be an elderly person, but instead someone who has been blessed with energy, positivity and the ability to draw youthfulness from constantly being around students as much as 82 years younger.
“I don’t really know what feeling old means,” she said in her interview with the Loyola Phoenix. “I’ve lived with older people, I’ve seen older people, visited them and some of them are just so down all the time or depressed about even living. I think that has not happened to me because I’ve been with young people all the time.”
Even now at 100 Sister Jean is showing no signs of slowing down. In the days leading up to Wednesday’s landmark birthday, she has spoken of what she wishes her legacy to be after she is gone, but that she firmly believes that her work of loving God and loving people certainly isn’t over.
She attempts to live each day with joy – even on those occasions when some days bring sadness, making it difficult for her happiness to come shining through. Yet as she enters another year of life as the celebrations of her 100th birthday will continue around the Loyola community until the end of August, Sister Jean says that she continually thanks God for each day she is given.
But she says that in order to have an impact on people, “we have to be happy ourselves,” she said.
For a nun who knew she wanted to join the sisterhood at age 8, Sister Jean – for all of the notoriety that has come both to her and to her beloved Loyola – the secret to the positive way she approaches life comes down to a simple truth. It’s one that she has based her daily existence on for years and that she will continue to rely on as she looks ahead to another celebration next August.
“I’ve been a joyful person all my life,” Sister Jean said Wednesday. “Sometimes, people look at me and say, ‘How can you be happy all the time?’ Well, I am happy. I try to look at the good upon everybody I see.
“Joy is so important. Sometimes you’re going to have sad days, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our joy. You can st