Unfathomable surprises have defined March Madness, beginning with the UMBC Retrievers’ upset of top overall seed Virginia that marked the first time a 16-seed has ever toppled a No. 1 seed.
But not even the biggest upset in history could keep Sister Jean from becoming the most memorable face of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament:
— Fanatics (@Fanatics) March 26, 2018
So who is Sister Jean, the instantly famous March Madness sensation?
Jean Dolores Schmidt, or “Sister Jean” as she’s affectionately known by, is a 98-year-old chaplain for the Loyola Chicago Ramblers men’s basketball team. Her cheery interviews and spry optimism made her an overnight sensation after Loyola’s last-second win over Miami in the first round.
She even received congratulations from former president Barack Obama, who thanked her for keeping his bracket in line:
Congrats to @LoyolaChicago and Sister Jean for a last-second upset – I had faith in my pick!
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 15, 2018
Not even Obama could have forecast what happened next, however. Sister Jean’s popularity snowballed each round as the Ramblers rode their grit and heart to an improbable Final Four berth as a No. 11 seed in a South region that included the likes of Virginia, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Arizona and Tennessee.
While the aura of Sister Jean is a brand new feeling for basketball lovers, it’s nothing new for students, alumni and supporters of the Catholic university in Chicago. She’s something of a folk hero at Loyola, where she’s worked since 1991 and served as a team chaplain since 1994.
However, her ties to the Chicago area start long before the 90’s. Sister Jean arrived at Mundelein College in Chicago in 1961, where she became a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and quickly became involved in the budding civil rights movement. She even watched Loyola’s 1963 national championship – their one and only title – on a black-and-white television.
Fast forward some 55 years, and Loyola fans across the nation are rocking Sister Jean t-shirts featuring her contagious smile and motivational quotes.
Sister Jean may be getting her 15 minutes of fame during this special March Madness run by her Ramblers, but it’s no coincidence. As anyone connected to Loyola Chicago would tell you, she deserves the fame as much as anyone.