Sister Jean's lobbying pays off as Loyola-Chicago chaplain cleared to attend NCAA tournament

Sister Jean is headed back to March Madness.

Loyola-Chicago confirmed Tuesday that Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 101-year-old chaplain for the school's basketball team, will be in attendance Friday when the Ramblers open the NCAA tournament against Georgia Tech in Indianapolis. The Ramblers won the Missouri Valley Conference championship and are the No. 8 seed in the Midwest region.

Sister Jean, who became an international celebrity during Loyola-Chicago's run to the Final Four in 2018, has not attended games since the coronavirus pandemic began. She delivered pregame prayers virtually throughout the season but remained in a senior independent living apartment in downtown Chicago.

Sister Jean will attend Friday's game at Hinkle Fieldhouse but not have any direct in-person contact with the team. She noted that if the players' parents can't interact with them, neither should she. Sister Jean will have a nurse with her and security that will help escort her from a downtown Indianapolis hotel to the game. She said there is "no danger" to her attending the game, but she will follow all guidelines.

"What they wanted to do was be sure that all the safety factors were taken into consideration," Sister Jean said Tuesday during a videoconference with reporters. "Sometimes people who haven't gone to the games or to the NCAA or even to March Madness, they're not sure exactly what goes on there. Sometimes they think it's like a teenage concert, where everybody's going to surround me and might not have any breathing space.

"If I'm not supposed to go on the court, I'm not going to go. And I'm not going to cause any disturbance."

Sister Jean wanted to attend the tournament for weeks, and lobbied hard until she got clearance from the school.

"I had other offers from people at the university," she said. "One alum wrote and told me that her husband was willing to drive me down. Another person told me she was going to sneak me out of the university, and another couple said they would like to kidnap me, and Loyola would have to search for me."

Sister Jean already has filled out a bracket, but said she might still change it before the tournament begins. She noted how several familiar teams are missing -- "I don't see Kentucky any place" -- while acknowledging the new teams that made the field of 68.

She's not a fan of Loyola's draw, especially a potential second-round matchup with top-seeded Illinois.

"It amazes me that they put two Illinois schools together to go against each other rather than support each other," she said.

Despite the difficult road, Sister Jean pegs Loyola-Chicago to reach the Elite Eight. In 2016, she had the Ramblers advancing to the Sweet 16. She didn't expect to be attending another NCAA tournament to see the Ramblers.

Sister Jean hasn't been to Loyola's campus since March 11, 2020, when the pandemic hit. She has remained in close contact with coach Porter Moser and the players through phone and email, but said it was "very difficult" to watch from her apartment.

"These young people keep me young, even though I'm 101, I consider myself young at heart," she said.

Sister Jean also added: "In 2018, Loyola got on the map and everybody was happy. We also made people happy. I got letters from Germany and France, different kinds of people, saying, 'You brought great joy to our country.' Now we need something to make us happy even more than we did in 2018."

Born Aug. 21, 1919, Sister Jean joined the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary convent in Iowa after graduating high school. She joined the staff at Loyola-Chicago in 1991 and has served as the basketball team chaplain since 1994.