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Beloved ‘basketball chaplain’ Sister Jean shares 3 life lessons from sports

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Getty Images via AFP

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 02/12/23

Sister Jean believes in the power of sports, and shares many other important lessons in her new book.
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Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, might be the best known college “basketball chaplain” in the world. 

The 103-year-old religious sister just happens to be an avid sports fan, so she’s been all-in as “chaplain to the Loyola University Ramblers” for decades. She’s a household name in her local Chicago.

Now Sister Jean has released a memoir, Wake Up with Purpose!, that is an absolute delight and so much fun to read. It’s fascinating to see the past century through her thoughtful eyes, including historic events and a few celebrity encounters when she taught near Hollywood, California.

Most of all, it’s so interesting to read what she’s learned and what she wants to share. She’s spent most of her 103 years in dedicated service to young people, as an educator at every level from elementary school to university, and she brings great wisdom to many questions.

One thing that comes up a lot in the book is how much Sister Jean loves sports. She loves following them, she loved playing them when she was younger, and she thinks they’re a great way for young people to spend their time. 

I had the chance to sit down with Sister Jean and talk about her new book. What a fun conversation that was! 

Because she believes in the power of sports, she started a sports program whenever she had the opportunity, at various educational institutions. “I believe in the power of athletics to teach important skills those players can use forever,” she wrote in her memoir.

Sister Jean played sports herself for years (and it’s fascinating to read in her book about how much women’s sports have changed over the years!). 

“Even then,” she told me, “I felt that I was learning more than just the games that I was observing or participating in. And I believed it even more when I became a teacher, and wanted to start programs.”

Here are Sister Jean’s 3 life lessons we can learn from playing sports.

1Teamwork

Learning to work together is a vital skill for people in any profession. And it’s even more important on the home front, navigating relationships with family and friends! Sister Jean explained:

Most of all, I like that most sports require teamwork. That’s what life is all about. Families have to have teamwork. Husbands and wives have to have teamwork. Businesses have to have teamwork. Sports encourage all of that. We say all the time at Loyola, “No one person can do it alone. It has to be the whole group together.” 

2Resilience

Sister Jean mentioned several occasions when her players have faced a loss with grace and humility. Learning to win and lose with good character, and be resilient even in a bad season, are some of the important lessons learned from playing sports. She said:

You have to take things one game at a time. And if you lose, you have to be a good sport about it. You can’t be moping around afterward. You have to pick up the pieces and get going again.

3Discipline

Sister Jean commented on the time management and organization that players have to learn. Self discipline, both on and off the field, is an integral part of playing sports. She said:

They learn great life skills, family skills. They know what to do. I also believe that they learn time management, because they have to go to school, they have to study, they have to practice, and practice is several hours a day.

Of course, the benefits of sports are only a small part of all that Sister Jean has to share in Wake Up with Purpose! I couldn’t put her book down, and I hope you love it, too.

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