With grace, humor and generosity of spirit, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt offered all of us a seminar on making the most of a moment of fame. Her wisdom and warmth, her smile and sense of serenity throughout March Madness mirrored the traits that elevated Stan Musial above that of an extraordinary athlete and makes her most deserving of the Musial Award for Extraordinary Character.
Just as her Loyola Ramblers made a magical run through the Missouri Valley Conference and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Sister Jean ran the gauntlet of media celebrity. Who could resist the lure of Loyola’s team chaplain, a then-98-year-old nun in maroon custom Nikes and a wheelchair, dwarfed by a circle of gangly basketball players? Turns out few who covered this year’s tournament could. Whether it was ESPN, CNN, Good Morning America, The Guardian, Charles Barkley or any of the dozens of global outlets eager for a few minutes of her time, Sister Jean was ready with a sweet but witty answer. When asked about her turn in the national spotlight, Sister Jean jokingly replied, “Really, if I can correct you, international.”
In that moment, Sister Jean was merely doing what she felt she was supposed to do: selflessly embrace celebrity, with a twinkle in her eye. Before she knew it, her likeness had been printed on T-shirts, socks and towels. Her bobblehead became the all-time top seller for the company that manufactured it. Yet Sister Jean saw a higher virtue in the trappings of instant fame. “I did it for the Loyola community,” she said. “I look at it as something good for Loyola, my congregation, the church, the nation, the world.”
Though it seemed as if she caught lightning in a bottle, Sister Jean was well-prepared to seize her opportunity. Since childhood, she has framed her day with prayer, both grateful and hopeful for the peace in her life. She also has leaned on human, as well as divine, intervention. Two staffers from Loyola were assigned to gather, sort and respond to requests for her time. An assistant athletic director served her as wheelchair driver and bodyguard, and a nurse helped Sister Jean through daily rehab from a broken hip she suffered early in the season. She also has quite a reputation to uphold, thanks to her fellow Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other members of her order have run colleges, served as school district superintendents, been profiled in People magazine, even been elected mayor of Dubuque, Iowa.
She has answered calls to service before. She heard one in high school, which led her to the convent. She heard another in 1994, when asked to take over as team chaplain. And she’s also an old hand at inspiration. Win or lose, Sister Jean sends personal emails with words of encouragement to each team member after every game. So, you could say that she was primed and ready to embrace her moment − in position to say, as so many other Musial winners have, that she was just doing what she was supposed to do. And by extension, what we can do, in seeking and responding to our own Musial moment. “I just think everybody is a celebrity in his and her own way,” she told NBC. “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.”