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Sister Jean’s First Team Reflects on Their Cherished Chaplain

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“Her role now, I think, is greater than it was when I was there,” said Chris Wilburn, a senior on the ’94-95 team.

At the start of her tenure, she seemed dauntingly old to players. But Sister Jean was soon a fixture of the program, someone who was always there to greet the team in the moments after the few wins and the many more losses. She would sometimes surface in the locker room, maybe casting a glance and a forced smile when an explicit lyric would echo through, and she would transform into a person for basketball recruits to meet during their visits. Her office became a refuge, players said, and a more welcoming place than, say, sitting across from an assistant coach.

“She’s not going to judge you, she’s not going to hold it against you,” she said. “She doesn’t care, per se, if it’s a basketball issue or a girlfriend issue or a lunch issue about how you didn’t get to eat that day.”

Sometimes, players said, she would listen from behind her desk. At others, she would draw closer.

“She’d always just smile and sit back and kind of cross her hands, just like you see now in that wheelchair,” Estes said. “She’d just sort of smirk and say, ‘Joe, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you got.’”

These days, she might sometimes seem to rival Bob Newhart, who earned a business degree at Loyola in 1952, as the university’s most famous export. To her former players, though, she is even more a marvel.

Wilburn’s children have shirts with Sister Jean’s likeness. Owens’s kids used to ask whether the Ramblers were winning because the sister was praying. Molis, much like Estes, told a story about how, in 2018, Sister Jean all but summoned the box score of a game he had not thought about in more than a decade.

“I’ll tell Sister Jean stories til the day that I die,” Molis said. “I’ll them to my daughter — I do it all the time right now.”

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