At the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in La Grange, Illinois, most of the retired nuns have hung up their habits. As they’re winding down their lives of devotion, they’ve traded out their monochromatic vestments for something a bit more casual. But not Sister Adrian Schmidt.
She still wears the black and white garments of her order. Of course, this being a suburb of Chicago, she does allow herself one indulgence: a red, white and blue Cubs patch that adorns the chest of her black vest.
Sister Adrian, 81, may seem an unlikely candidate to unlock the secrets of Alzheimer’s disease. But through her work with a groundbreaking research project, she and other Catholic clergy are helping scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and throughout the world crack the code of a devastating illness that now affects 26.6 million people worldwide.
As a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Adrian has given more than a half-century of her life in service to the Lord. She spent 50 years working in the kitchens of nunneries around the country, then another decade as house administrator for the Sisters of St. Joseph. A broad smile lights her face when she speaks of the sisterhood, the dear friends with whom she’s shared every piece of her life. But when the conversation turns to one such friend, her eyes grow moist behind her thick glasses.
“She studied art in Europe, you know,” Sister Adrian says. “The things she could do with stone were simply amazing. You’ll see what I mean when we go into the chapel.” Indeed, when you enter, you’re greeted by a formidable chunk of alabaster, carved and worn and polished into the likeness of Mary, the mother, cradling the infant Jesus.