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March 1, 2009

Loyola chaplain warms hearts

By Michelle Martin


By Karen Callaway


BVM Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt doesn’t look like she belongs on a basketball court.

But the small-framed sister, who retired from full-time work at Loyola University Chicago 15 years ago, plays a vital role for the Loyola men’s basketball team, serving as the chaplain since her retirement. She also serves as a part-time campus minister for the university, spending three days a week making herself available to students and staff.

“I just like what I’m doing,” said Sister Jean in the campus ministry office she shares at 25 E. Pearson St. at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus.

The door to the office sports a basketball team picture, with each of the player’s teams neatly inked in, and a schedule marked with the won-lost record.

In addition to the three days she puts in at the office — time she often spends chatting with students waiting in line to catch the shuttle back to Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus — she attends all the men’s home basketball games, as well as the away games that are in the Chicago area. She watches out-of-state games on the Internet.

She also goes to the women’s basketball games and men’s and women’s volleyball games when she has time.

“You get to know the athletes,” she said. “I have friends on those teams.”

She’s always liked sports, she said.

“When I taught in elementary school in California for 20 years — and out there, the sports are even more competitive — I coached girls’ basketball, volleyball, softball and track,” she said.

And she was no soft coach.

“I used to have the eighth-grade boys practice with the eighth-grade girls,” she said. “It was hard for both groups.”

Sister Jean, 89, has no intention of giving up her work with the athletes any time soon.

“The young men I work with are very good,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to have young men who are so good. They are the best advertisement for the university. They are out in public all the time.”

That puts heavy pressure on the young men, who not so long ago were high school boys. They have to grow up fast, taking responsibility for their academic work as well as their commitment to the athletic program — not to mention packing their own bags and doing their laundry.

“Their mothers can’t do it for them anymore,” she said.

She keeps in touch with them by e-mail, and she hears, or reads, what’s really going on with them, including whether they think they are playing enough.

She also prays with them just before each game she attends. Her prayers, she said, might include requests for the Lord to help them keep an eye on opposing players who are known to have good jump shots (she reads about upcoming opponents on the Internet), or perhaps to work around the basket a little bit better.

“We always call on God’s blessings,” she said. “We also pray for the referees. A game many times hangs on the referees.”

Sister Jean has a good working relationship with coach Jim Whitesell.

“They learn so much from him, in addition to basketball,” she said. “Basketball isn’t their life.”

But it can teach life lessons.

“They learn to share,” she said. “They can’t hog the ball themselves — they have to give it to the one who is hot that night.”