Sister Jean misses Madness but preaches safety

Relive the Sister Jean madness from 2018 (1:09)

Sister Jean answers questions during a packed news conference and even responds to Jalen Rose's grandmother during Loyola-Chicago's 2018 Final Four run. (1:09)

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt would rather be watching March Madness, ideally courtside, as she did two years ago when Loyola-Chicago made its unforgettable run to the Final Four.

The 100-year-old team chaplain for Loyola-Chicago would rather be holding court with players, fans and media at arenas around the country. Instead, she's safely isolated in a room in Chicago, unable to see visitors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But Sister Jean's message of teamwork, which helped inspire Loyola-Chicago in 2018, remains the same. This time, she hopes to reach an even larger audience.

"This is so different from anything we've ever heard or read about," Sister Jean told ESPN on Friday. "We have to be calm about it. It's very hard to say that to people who are losing family and everything. But things like this happen for some reason, I suppose, and we need to get closer to God. We need to trust God that this is going to end. It's not going to go on forever.

"I think the end will come, but we have to work as a team in order to do this. Everybody has to work on this team and stay home and not be out gallivanting or sun-bathing."

Sister Jean was born in 1919, amid the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed tens of millions of lives worldwide. She only heard about the devastation from family members. Although she has lived through wars and other international crises, she has never experienced a situation like the coronavirus outbreak, which caught so many unprepared and has spread so quickly.

"This is just overwhelming," she said, "but what we need to do, at night, before we go to bed, is not only think of all the bad news we've heard, but think of all the good things that people are doing, and how fortunate we are to have so many healthcare people who are working around the clock, never going home. We are blessed. In some countries they don't have that."

Although Sister Jean can't leave her room, even for meals, she's staying very busy. She joked that her desk in her room looks worse than the one at her campus office. Earlier this week, she videotaped a prayer for the community, urging the importance of social distancing and other methods to limit the spread of the virus.

Sister Jean continues to check in with Loyola-Chicago's basketball players and other students who are taking classes online and finishing the semester. The Ramblers ended their season with a loss in the Missouri Valley tournament quarterfinals.

"We talk about how good we should be next year because we're graduating just one person," Sister Jean said. "[Head coach Porter Moser] called me [Thursday], and I said, 'Porter, I told the team we're going to the NCAA next year.' He said, 'Good for you, Sister Jean.'

"If you don't set [expectations] high, you're not going get anyplace. We want to get on that dance floor again."

Sister Jean said her "heart aches" for college basketball players who didn't complete their conference tournaments or get to participate in the NCAA tournament, especially teams that had not been in a while. After watching Loyola win a tournament regional in Atlanta two years ago, Sister Jean looked forward to the city hosting the Final Four.

"It's really sad," she said. "But we can't be groaning around the place. We all are doing what we can to stop the whole pandemic."