Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt’s supporters were easy to spot. More than half a dozen women religious wearing red and yellow winter scarves around their neck bounced up the stairs and looked for their seats at the Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis.
The scarves were similar to the one with school colors worn by Sister Jean on the sidelines at Loyola University of Chicago’s basketball games in her role as team chaplain. Sister Jean was honored Nov. 17 with the Musial Award for Extraordinary Character by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation. Sister Jean was recognized for demonstrating remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship reflecting the attributes of the late St. Louis baseball Cardinal Stan Musial. Musial was known as much for his character and proud Catholic faith as he was for his Hall of Fame career.
Sister Jean, 99, captured the fancy of the nation last spring during the March Madness college basketball championships when she became a focus of the media spotlight. She explained that she was just doing good for Loyola, her congregation of women religious, the Church, the nation and the world.
Sister Mary Nolan, a member of the same Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Sister Jean, said “she’s one in a million. We have her back, and we think she’s terrific.”
Sister Mary, who has served as a parish minister, senior advocate, regional representative for her congregation and more, knew Sister Jean when both attended Mundelein College in Chicago. “She’s dear to our hearts,” Sister Mary said of her friend.
Sister Eileen Fuchs, also a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who has served as a science teacher among other roles, said that having a professed sister as part of the awards is an honor. “She taught the team how to act as a community and get the attitude of being with an for each other,” Sister Eileen said.
Introduced with resounding applause, Sister Jean pointed out that Loyola plays in the conference tournament in St. Louis, and she recognizes a spirit of hospitality and courtesy each time she visits. The Musial Award, she said, goes to her but credit also goes to her family, congregation, the Jesuits of Loyola, the students and team.
With wit and clarity that defies her age, she promised to live up to the character of Stan the Man. “I promise to inspire selflessness, integrity and civility in sports and in society,” she said.
In an article on her in the Musial Awards program, Sister Jean said “each one of us is a celebrity. Each one is bright in the eyes of God.” In her talk, she added that God wants everyone to use “the special gifts that brought you to where you are and (have helped) the people you’ve influenced in your lives. And so I say, God bless all of us. And I’d be very remiss if I did not say, go Ramblers.”
Two retired pro baseball players, Ozzie Smith and Jim Thome, were honored along with a college softball coach, Lonnie Alameda. Among the five amateur athletes honored was Ty Koehn for sportsmanship. Koehn struck out a longtime friend, Jack Kocon, in a high school baseball playoff game to secure a win for his team in a Minneapolis suburb. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, Koehn immediately ran to Kocon and embraced and consoled him — a much unexpected reaction.
In his acceptance of the award, Koehn said the credit “goes to God, all the glory goes to Him.” As a good Christian, he added, he’s proud to set an example for the world.
After the awards ceremony, Kocon said he wasn’t surprised with his friend’s remarks. And, as for himself, he said that he and other players from his archdiocean high school, Totino-Grace, also put God, prayer and love for one another first. The Golden Rule — treating others as you want to be treated — is a motto to live by, he said.
Sportsmanship and the character instilled by faith are alive and well, as these awards testify. The Musial Awards program was recorded and will air at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, on KSDK, Channel 5. The show is well worth watching for inspiration and emulation.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.