By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
March is typically a month filled with nervous excitement for basketball fans, especially Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, chaplain to the men’s basketball team at Loyola University Chicago. Sister Jean became a household name across the United States two years ago, when the Ramblers made a notable run to the Final Four of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Throughout the tournament, Sister Jean was a prayerful presence for the team, and offered support as well as insight into their matchups.
Like many basketball teams across the country, the Ramblers were hoping to make it back into the “Big Dance” again this spring. But on March 12, they received word that because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the men’s and women’s tournaments would be canceled.
Since then, Sister Jean has been in touch with her basketball players, to check-in and find out how they are coping. She discussed her outreach in a new interview with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. She said, “The week after our students went home, I started calling them. It’s interesting because the way that I communicated with them during the year was to e-mail them, and so I thought no, now I’m going to call them. So, I call and say, ‘This is Sister Jean.’ They say, ‘Sister Jean?!’ And then we go ahead and talk. We talk about many things, including next season and how very badly we want to go to the Big Dance next year.”
But more than worrying about basketball, Sister Jean’s concern is for the toll that events like the coronavirus are taking on today’s college-aged students and young adults. The impact of events over the past 21 years (e.g. terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001; high school shootings at Columbine in 1999 and in Parkland in 2018) cannot be overestimated. Students today live in a world in which school shootings and terrorist attacks are constant and real threats. Sister Jean said, “The people who really know only tragedy are these young people. I become concerned about them because everything goes wrong for them, since the time that Columbine happened. It’s bound to affect them in some way.”
Providing counsel to her students by phone or by e-mail has become a daily job for Sister Jean over the past two weeks. But she is also using social media to connect with a broader audience: in a new video released yesterday by Loyola, she urged all people to listen to doctors and government officials, and follow their advice on ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Sister Jean praised the work of Chicago’s leaders, as well as that of Dr. Anthony Fauci, a Jesuit-educated alumnus of Regis High School and the College of the Holy Cross, who now serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. With her trademark sense of humor and good nature, she said, “Oh, I love listening to him and I think he is so great. I just hope he doesn’t get sick!”
That the pandemic is happening during the liturgical season of Lent is not lost on Sister Jean, who views it as an opportunity to meditate upon the Passion of Christ. She said, “When we have tragedies like this, we always have to go through the process of the Passion, the death and the resurrection. And we’re doing the passion and we’re doing the death very quickly, every day; the resurrection is yet to come. It may go beyond this Easter, but it’s going to come.”
But no matter one’s religious tradition, Sister Jean views the pandemic as something that can inspire all of us to find greater purpose and hope. She said, “I believe that we’re going to find new ways to be people who work as a team. I think we’re also going to find a way to be kinder, more kind to our neighbors and to our families because we’ll find a way that all of this digital media will work to bring us closer together, instead of pulling us apart. I also believe that good is going to come out of this because God is a God of love and even though sometimes, He seems far away, He’s not: He’s right here with us.”