Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is rooting for a Catholic Jesuit national championship.
The 101-year-old Loyola chaplain originally had Gonzaga in her NCAA Tournament championship bracket with her Ramblers bowing out in the Elite Eight. But now she hopes they can go all the way after knocking off Illinois on Sunday.
“Maybe they’ll push harder and get to the very top and play that game,” she said Thursday in a video news conference. “I would hope they would go a greater distance. It will be interesting if we get to the top.”
She will leave Chicago for Indianapolis on Friday — a day early to avoid traffic and game-day stress, she said — to see No. 8 seed Loyola’s Sweet 16 meeting Saturday against No. 12 seed Oregon State.
Sister Jean sat in a wheelchair accessible area of Hinkle Fieldhouse and Bankers Life Fieldhouse last week to watch Loyola beat No. 9 seed Georgia Tech and No. 1 seed Illinois, respectively. After the Ramblers upset Illinois, the players celebrated on the court and turned to wave to her in the stands.
“It was a great moment,” she said. “I told someone, ‘Our team was like little boys with ice cream cones jumping up and down, they were so excited.”
Sister Jean became a sports icon in 2018 — back when she was only 98 years old — as the Ramblers advanced to the Final Four with a string of upsets. Celebrities like Charles Barkley and Bill Walton clamored to take a selfie with her along with other tournament fans.
This NCAA Tournament trip, because of COVID-19 protocols, she has had to keep her distance from the team and conduct her pregame prayers with players over the phone.
She hasn’t had as much interaction with fans either. Not that she has had time.
Former Bulls star and Chicago native Dwyane Wade tweeted he wanted to get in touch with Sister Jean.
She laughed when asked about contacting him. She hasn’t had time to respond, she noted, given her duties with Loyola’s ministries, trying to respond to a full inbox of emails, sending back proofs for her third bobblehead, studying up on Oregon State and working on her pregame emails to players.
Sister Jean lobbied to attend this NCAA Tournament.
She said she couldn’t have imagined being back to watching the Ramblers on another NCAA Tournament tear. And now she has faith she’ll see them in the Final Four.
“I’ll be jumping around, figuratively, as much as they are,” she said. “It’d be a great thrill if they get to the Final Four again or even go a couple steps more. I’ll hardly believe it if it happens.”