BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
You need to be a person for others; that is what St. Ignatius tells us to be. –Sister Jean
At a Final Four press conference, Loyola Basketball Chaplain, Sister Jean, attracted more reporters than her fellow Californian Tom Brady did following the Super Bowl. After answering their questions, Sister Jean told the reporters that they are good and good to each other, and that no one should tell them otherwise, despite anything anyone says about the press.
As we saw when she threw out the first pitch at the Cubs opener or as she huddled with her players at the Final Four, Sister Jean has one of those smiles that lets you know she loves being with you and couldn’t be having more fun.
Who better than Sister Jean, who in the past weeks has been perhaps the most beloved woman in the world, to ask how to lead an intergenerational life with purpose?
Going along with The Village Chicago’s President, Kathie Kolodgy, and its Executive Director, Dianne Campbell, to congratulate Sister Jean on receiving the organization’s first Trailblazer Award, to be presented to her at their Annual Meeting on April 24, I couldn’t help but feel that being one of her reporters was just the luckiest!
As a young reporter, my mother, Bonnie Carmack, interviewed Helen Keller, who put her hand on my mother’s cheek to imagine what she looked like. She was always my mother’s favorite subject and the most beautiful person—I now have mine in Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
As Dianne remarked:
“Sister Jean embodies the values of The Village Chicago. She is the North Star for all of us wanting to maximize the dividend of a long life. The Village Chicago is honored to present Sister Jean with our inaugural Trailblazer Award in celebration of her remarkable engagement and impact—and all that she inspires.
Recovering from a broken hip, Sister Jean will soon be able to walk again, but for now, of the many students who are always asking to go along accompanied her to the Loyola Chapel.
What you see first is that incandescent smile beaming above her good luck maroon and gold scarf that she wore to every playoff game. Although a company made her another scarf with her name emblazoned on it, this is her good luck charm.
The Village Chicago created the Trailblazer Award because it provides new ways to navigate longevity by doing what these individuals do best: finding new pathways, navigating rough terrain, and leading the way for others. No one better fits the criteria. With both her beloved Rambler basketball players and the other students who flock to the open door of her office in the Loyola student center, she talks about the future.
“I want them to be ready when they step into the workplace. Many are involved in university work or choose Jesuit or other service work. Young people often start out being very introverted and tend to think about their own problems. I worry about students and all their phone usage but am encouraged that our freshmen seem to be texting less.
“I live in a residence hall with 400 students and encourage them to visit my office. Sometimes the school sends students to me if they have made a mistake. I usually ask if their mothers know about this—mothers usually know such things. We work through the situation to make sure they don’t make the mistake again.”
You make me believe that 98 is the new 28. How do you talk to your students about longevity?
Sometimes when the students talk about ‘those elderly people,’ I tell them that you can never stop living a life that’s positive. I am tired of wheeling around and look forward to walking again, but being in a temporarily in a wheelchair is not stopping me from being who I am.
I do believe that today people don’t hide their age so much when they get older—they are more open to being proud of it. I remember when I was 95, a six-year-old boy asked me how old I was, and when I told him, he replied, ‘That’s pretty old.’ The next time I saw him, he asked, ‘Are you still 95?’
What is your secret to finding fun in life?
My parents were happy people and thought that others should choose to be as well. I tell myself not to get down. I am lucky to work with happy people, and I feel it’s your job to encourage other people to be so as well. St. Ignatius taught us to examine our day and think about the good things. Life definitely can be positive.
You have been a teacher, a Mundelein College administrator, and now chaplain to the country’s most beloved basketball team, as well as other current assignments. Tell us a little about being Chaplain.
It’s easy with this team, whom I compared to the 1963 team in that they were so generous in passing to their fellow players. I kept saying to them: ‘Pass to who is hot tonight.’ Coach Moser didn’t mind that I scouted opponents and shared my results with the players. We are all on the same page.
Of course we knew that Michigan was very strong, but everyone was devastated when we lost. Villanova might have been pretty tough on us. We didn’t lose by much, and the team bounced back quickly because they know how to handle loss.
Among your many assignments is directing a program at The Clare, the independent living facility on Loyola property off Michigan Avenue. What do you and your students who work with senior residents tackle?
We have matched Loyola students to the residents, and we help with technology, help residents get to meals, and encourage them to keep reading. Computer games can be not only relaxing but good for your mind.
One of the secrets to Sister Jean’s warmth is her sympathetic sense of humor that puts everyone around her at ease. A former elementary school teacher before becoming an administrator at Mundelein College, she visited student teachers who might have been a little intimidated by a supervisor in the classroom. Always an avid sports enthusiast, she would tell them that she was there as a “booster shooter” and to not worry at all.
“At the playoffs, one reporter wished me ‘Happy Good Friday,’ and then I think that the other reporters told him he shouldn’t have said that. When he came to apologize, I told him it’s a tough day for Jesus but actually a very happy day for all of us because Jesus died for us.”
As Village President Kathy Kolodgy said:
“Sister Jean lives her life with purpose, choosing happiness all along the way. She makes the most of every interaction with others, whatever their age and regardless of hers. She is living fully in community, one of the ideals of The Village.”
The Village Chicago invites the public to attend their April 24 annual meeting when Sister Jean will receive their first ever Trailblazer Award. If you are interested in attending, please call 773-248-8700. For more information about The Village, go to thevillagechicago.org.