College basketball fans know that March Madness is always full of surprises. Top seeds fall. Cinderella teams rise. But probably the biggest surprise in the history of the NCAA tournament is the unlikely stardom of Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, a nun who will turn 100 years old this summer. The public caught wind of her during the 2018 tournament, and since she’s been celebrated by everyone from Sports Illustrated to the Catholic News Agency. She went viral on social media—one meme shows her in a Michael-Jordan-like leap with a basketball as part of an Air Jean logo.
What’s All the Sister Jean Hype About?
Why all the sports love for a woman currently in a wheelchair? Officially, she’s the chaplain of Loyola University-Chicago’s basketball team, a low seed in the tournament that’s had a run so deep in the brackets you can’ t help suspect divine intervention. But her role is much bigger. She is giving whole new meaning to school spirit.
For years, she has sent scouting reports to the coach before games. She keeps stats on rebounds and free throws. She writes notes to players to keep spirits up. She greets players after games. And she prays. Boy, does she pray. For protection for the players and fair calls from the refs, among other things.
She’s so beloved at Loyola-Chicago that she has customized basketball shoes with “Sister” on one and “Jean” on the other. She has her own plaque in the school’s hall of fame and, even more indicative of her status, her very own bobble head doll. And now, as the scrappy team makes a “Run for the Nun,” she’s beloved by basketball fans everywhere—and especially by women of a certain age who are inspired by her to stay engaged and have fun.
A version of this article was originally published in March 2018.