This story appears in the Nov. 5, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
While the Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago busted America's brackets last March, their 98-year-old team chaplain stole the nation's hearts. SI caught up with Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, now 99, who reflected on that improbable run as she prepares to make another.
SI: You were a natural on camera. What prepared you for the NCAA tournament spotlight?
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt: I was teaching eighth grade in North Hollywood, Calif. The archdiocese wanted to have classes taught over TV. That was in 1957. I was chosen to teach a civics class. The equipment broke down, so we couldn't do it. So I called Bob Hope. I had his daughter in my class. I said, "Bob, do you think we could have a video for the class that Linda is in?" He said, "Oh, sure. Just call the studio and tell them I said yes." When we got to the studio, they couldn't work overtime because of union rules. So we only did it once.
SI: Do you have a favorite moment from last season's run to the Final Four?
SJ: I'll never forget Clayton [Custer's] face as he came down the court when he was going to make that last shot [against Tennessee in the second round]. His face was so radiant and so intense. It was a different person every game. That's where their generosity comes in. They don't care who makes the basket.
SI: You're known for including scouting reports in your pregame prayers. Did that become more difficult when those prayers were being broadcast nationwide?
SJ: I pray with them before every game. Afterward I pray with the fans, but that's a different prayer. In the tournament there were a lot of cameras, [so I had to omit some info].
SI: This season, can you get back to giving real scouting reports during the prayer?
SJ: Oh, sure. I'll tell them to watch number so-and-so. One time last year I was on my way to the microphone to say the prayer with the fans, and the other coach was writing his lineup down. I turned to him and said, "Would you like me to do that for you?"
SI: How amazed were you at the response you got during those three weeks of the NCAA tournament?
SJ: I began getting emails from people all over the world. Some of the emails were very personal. One man told me he hadn't been to church for 40 years, but on Easter Sunday he was going to go again. A lot of people asked for prayers. People wrote and said I raised everybody's spirits when so much stuff in the country is not that way at all.
SI: Do you have a favorite piece of Sister Jean merchandise?
SJ: Some of the kids have these socks where my face gets put together. I have a new bobblehead. I had one before, but they updated it to make me grayer.