The Catholic school chaplain who will be getting all the attention at the Final Four is Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the smiling, sneaker-clad 98-year-old nun who has been the spiritual force throughout Loyola Chicago’s unlikely run in the NCAA tournament.
And that’s just fine with the Rev. Rob Hagan, the Villanova team chaplain who will be on the bench at a Final Four for the second time in the last three seasons hoping the Wildcats can claim the national championship trophy once again.
“I’m really happy for them,” said Hagan, 52, known throughout the Villanova community as Father Rob. “In a way, they kind of remind me of us. It’s just a wonderful opportunity for people to discover all the good about the institution, about the mission of the school, of the BVM Sisters and Sister Jean’s congregation, and the wonderful work that they do and the missions that they serve.
“I think there’s values that we share and those values are certainly the kinds of things we like to instill in our teams. And now to see those teams have success on the biggest stage, it’s really wonderful.”
Sister Jean, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has become quite a celebrity. She has given the university permission to license her name and image, and merchandise with her likeness is flying off the shelves. The school sold 5,000 Sister Jean bobbleheads in 48 hours, and some items are selling for $500 each on eBay.
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Hagan, an associate athletic director who is in his 15th year at Villanova, thinks Loyola is taking advantage of a “wonderful opportunity” with Sister Jean, who began at Loyola in 1991 and became chaplain three years later in addition to her work as an academic adviser.
“I have great respect for her commitment as a religious, her commitment to her vows, the longevity of service, the lives that she’s touched,” he said. “I would think that this would be an inspiration for anyone who might have a vocation out there for religious life, to see the impact that a person can have as a member of the community.”
When it comes to their mission to their students and those who compete in Division I basketball, Hagan feels that he and Sister Jean probably are similar.
“Being a student-athlete is so all-encompassing,” he said. “There’s so much pressure involved in meeting the various responsibilities in the classroom and the practice and the travel, plus all the obligations that they have.
“I think as chaplains we have an opportunity to kind of remind them of the bigger picture, to remind them they’re not just in it alone, to rely on their higher power, to rely on their teammates, to remember that they don’t have to have all the answers, or even all the strengths.
“So we have an opportunity to kind of highlight some of those values that we share that can just be tools in the tool box of the student-athletes to help them succeed on and off the court.”
In what is believed to be an unprecedented event at the NCAA tournament, Sister Jean will have a 15-minute availability in the media area of the Alamodome on Friday morning. Hagan said he would like to say hello to her if he gets the opportunity.
“I would definitely welcome it,” he said. “Her length of service, her charisma, her faith, the way she has represented her congregation, I see her as an inspiration as a fellow religious, and I’d love the opportunity to meet her.”
Can Sister Jean come visit us in the fall? pic.twitter.com/16G6A6BFGS
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