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Sisters of Sister Jean, who work in the background, are pleased with the attention she brings to them



You are dizzy. They are also sisters of sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old unlikely international celebrity, and chaplain of another unlikely celebrity – the Loyola University men's team.

Until about a month Sister Jean was loved, but largely unknown outside the university community, which the team also describes.

Then Loyola began his unlikely run at the NCAA tournament, where it is now only one win away from the chance to play the national championship

Through all this, the inconspicuous sister Jean has her wheelchair like a surfboard on one ridden global wave of popularity. In the interview after the interview she somehow remains balanced and articulate, but enthusiastic; confident but modest.

The subsequent attention to the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mission of Sister Jean, was overwhelming, joyful and poignant, said sisters Diane O'Donnell, Peggy Geraghty and Mary Fran McLaughlin, who are also retired from the order known as BVM. The attention has also helped the order in a tangible way.

Over the past two weeks, headquarters in Dubuque, Iowa, has received "gifts to the community" from all over the US, spokeswoman Angie Connolly said in an email. "Many were made in honor of Sister Jean to support the mission of the BVM sisters," whose core principles are freedom, education, charity, and justice, Connolly added.

In addition, "a young lady" contacted the Order a few days ago and started a crowdfunding campaign in honor of Sister Jean and the other sisters, Connolly said. All funds from Sister Jean Final Four Charity will support Chicago's Big Shoulders Fund, which grants scholarships to Catholic children in downtown Chicago. Two-thirds of these recipients come from low-income households. About 30 percent are not Catholic.

And at a game-watch party, the Nisei Lounge in Wrigleyville will donate part of their beer sales to the Order of the Sisters.

In the midst of this happy mess, Sister Peggy, Diane and Mary Fran sat in the immaculate two-piece Portage Park's sister Peggy and sister Diane. The sisters, mid to late '70s, wore matching Loyola basketball T-shirts printed with the slogan "Powered by Sister Jean". On the coffee table stood a sister Jean Bobblehead.

"Our community is usually in the background," said Sister Diane. A grin spread on her face. "Suddenly this BVM is interviewed internationally." She burst out laughing, accompanied by her two BVM sisters.

Sister Peggy added, "For 24 years, she has been in the background doing what she did as a chaplain to the team and now, all at once, she has that. But she's never surprised what's coming next, I think She just goes with the flow. "

The three women say that Sister Jean is a model for women in religious life, someone who will eventually be recognized for all that she has done over the years. This portrait is particularly compelling for the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have played an important role in the Chicago area since their arrival in the city in 1

867.

Like many medals, the ranks of the BVM are declining, from nearly 2,500 in the 1970s to the current estimate of 330 nuns, including about 180 retirees living at the Order's headquarters in Dubuque, about 175 miles northwest of Chicago , Their direct influence decreases and leads to deeply felt conversations.

"We are talking about what the legacy is that we will leave in this world," said Sister Diane. "It's all the … thousands of people we've taught and who carry our mission into the world, so I'm not worried about our legacy because they're all out there."

Born in 1919 in San Francisco, Sister Jean played basketball in high school even though she was only 5 feet tall. As a third grader, she knew she wanted to be a nun. After graduation, she moved to the monastery BVM in Dubuque and returned in 1941 to California to teach there.

In 1961, Sister Jean took a job at Mundelein College, the women's school on the lakeshore beside Loyola, which became part of the University in 1991. She became the basketball Team Kaplan in 1994, providing prayer, support and scouting reports. Sister Peggy and Sister Mary Fran were recipients of the influence of Sister Jean in the early 1960s when they were students in Mundelein.

19659002] They remember her as an imaginative, tender "stone" they could always rely on, someone who had a gift for doing chores like the time when she took Sister Peggy and other Mundelein students convinced to clear the beach of Alevins. 19659002] The fish "smelle d bad, and she wanted to clean up the neighborhood," remembers Sister Peggy. "But she did not want people to see us. So we almost had to go out in the dark. "

Well, there are the sisters Mary Fran, Peggy, and Diane, who support Sister Jean, drive them to medical appointments, shops, and other errands to help her with tasks around her dormitory on the Loyola campus. [19659002] They admire their independence – they cook for themselves – their sensitivity to their imposition and their mental acuity.On another day on a shopping trip, Sister Jean could not get out of the car and gave her shopping list to her sisters, then she told them exactly where they could find the stuff in the store.

"We were out of it and out so fast," Sister Mary Fran recalled, "that's the way she is – forward-looking and organized."

Sister Mary Fran is the only one of the three retired nuns who was a college basketball fan before Loyola and sister Jean burst into tears, and now all three of them are enthusiastic students of the Ramblers They plan their days at Loyola's competitions and gather on the flat screen in the Portage Park apartment.

You have navigated your viewing plans for the next game at 17:09. on Holy Saturday. Sister Mary Fran is on her way to Loyola to watch the game and then take Easter service. Sisters Peggy and Diane are planning to see the game in the two-bedroom apartment and have found a 20 o'clock. Easter service evening in a nearby parish

Beyond these plans, all BVMs have discussed a different goal in e-mails and telephone conversations.

"Our sisters now want to have their own basketball team," said Sister Mary Fran.

And they want to play the Ramblers.

tgregory@chicagotribune.com


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