The Nun Behind the March Miracles

march miracles

Crazy shots. Buzzer beaters. Record comebacks. Bracket-busting upsets. Cinderella stories. March miracles. And a sassy 98-year-old nun.  This year’s wildly exciting NCAA tournament is one that will be talked about for decades.

For the first time in the history of the men’s NCAA Tournament, a #1 seed (Virginia) lost in the first round, while the UMBC Retrievers became the first #16 seed in the history of the tournament to defeat a #1 seed.

It was Loyola-Chicago, however, that had a Cinderella story for the ages, starting the tournament as a #11 seed and making it all the way to the Final Four. It wasn’t just the talent of the towering basketball players that created momentum for the team; it was also the wit and spirit of their 98-year-old chaplain, a Catholic nun named Sister Jean.  Talk about an endorsement for the power of prayer!

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt became a college basketball celebrity as the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers racked upset upon upset (Kansas State, Miami, Tennessee, Nevada…and so forth).  Although she prayed with the team before every game, even Sister Jean’s bracket didn’t show her team making it to the Final Four: “A young man said to me the other day: ‘Sister Jean, we broke your bracket.’ I said ‘Keep breaking it! That’s OK with me.'”

In just 48 hours, the Sister Jean bobblehead became the best-selling one in history. When one reporter called Sister Jean a national sensation, the 98-year-old nun replied: “Really, if I can correct you, international.”  Sister Jean has a consistently sharp wit; when another reporter asked what Sister Jean gave up for Lent, she quipped: “Losing.”

march miraclesAlthough the media reveled in the appeal of her one-liners, there was a bigger lesson behind the white-haired Ramblers fan and her infectious smile. Dubbed a “comfort blanket” by coach Porter Moser,  Sister Jean was showing up for her team long before they hit their history-making winning streak.  She prayed for the team before every game and sent motivational emails to players. She even provided coach Moser with detailed scouting reports that analyzed each player’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Worship. Work. Win.” It’s one of Sister Jean’s mantras, and it’s proudly displayed inside the weight room at Loyola’s athletic center. Indeed, her fifteen minutes of fame required a lot of work – she spent the Lenten season cheering for the team, answering up to 500 emails per day, and interviewing with dozens of journalists each day to help support her team. Sister Jean said: “When people say, ‘Why do you do this? You must be awfully tired,’ I said, ‘What difference does it make at 98, whether I’m tired or not?'”

Perhaps the greatest lesson came from Loyola-Chicago’s graciousness after their Final Four defeat. Sister Jean left the game two minutes early. Internet trolls immediately started mocking the nun’s abandonment of her losing team. In truth, this was Sister Jean’s customary routine. She departed early to make her way to the tunnel so she could give each of player a customary post-game hug as they left the court. Even one of the players from the Michigan team that defeated the Ramblers, sought out Sister Jean to offer his respect.

Her fifteen minutes of NCAA fame brought Sister Jean to this conclusion: “I just think everybody is a celebrity in his and her own way,” she said. “No matter what we’re doing, if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, then each one of us is a celebrity, each one is bright in the eyes of God.”

Fuel for Thought,