by Laura Schreiner
 

As a member of the fourth generation to manage his family’s funeral services business, Kevin Schramka, ’07, was confident in his life’s path.

Schramka enjoyed his work and found personal and spiritual fulfillment in comforting and providing closure for grieving families. But when the Schramka family began to discuss selling the business, he was faced with a life-altering decision – what’s next?

Although he hadn’t sought out a professional change, Schramka was willing to follow wherever God led him.

A longtime basketball and softball coach at both the grade and high school levels, it seemed a natural step for Schramka to obtain his substitute teaching license while he weighed his career options.

“There are a lot of similarities between coaching and teaching,” he said. “In both, you have the opportunity to make a huge impact on young people’s lives.”

While coaching basketball at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Schramka began to fill in as a substitute teacher on a day-to-day basis. Soon after, the principal of his home parish of Saints Cecilia and James in Mequon (now Lumen Christi), offered him a long-term substitute position. At end of that temporary appointment, the principal offered him a permanent placement teaching middle school religion courses.

It was at this point that Schramka realized what God was laying in front of him and decided to dedicate himself to this new path.

“I never expected to leave the family business or go back to school,” he said. “But I truly believe that God works in mysterious ways. He is constantly working on you or with you; and He never stops. I had to ask, ‘Is this what You want me to do? And if it is, I’m going to do it the best that I can.’”

Schramka and his wife, Lori, made an appointment to visit professor emerita and former chair of the religious studies department Sister Coletta Dunn, OSF, Ph.D., ’61, to discuss his enrollment in the Master of Arts in Religious Studies program.

“I told her about everything I had on my plate,” said Schramka. “I was currently teaching, coaching, and had a young family. I wasn’t sure if earning my masters was something I could even do.”

Schramka credits Sister Coletta with providing clarity and support throughout the process. He humbly recalled that the religious studies faculty helped him when he needed it most.

“This is where Stritch is at its best,” Schramka explained. “The professors take people who are in transition, mold them into becoming better people, and prepare them to be the best that they can.”

With the unwavering support of his family and the scheduling flexibility to “double down” on his coursework over the summer months, he progressed through the program. Though he remained on track and determined, this new path was not without bumps.

Schramka recalls one especially hectic day during which he had just completed two final exams and had to rush across the city to coach the Catholic Memorial High School basketball team. He made it to the gymnasium in the nick of time, feeling more than a little frazzled.

“I was feeling the stress right then and said, ‘Man, I need a hug!” Schramka recalled.

That was all the athletes needed to hear, and they lined up to give their coach a hug and lots of support.

“That’s turned into a famous story. I can laugh about it now,” he said with a chuckle.

Schramka graduated with a Master of Arts in Religious Studies degree in 2007. Currently teaching five religion classes at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, he sees his educational journey as coming full circle.

“I always laugh when I tell people about my journey in faith-based education,” he said. “I was taught by Salvatorians at Mother of Good Counsel; I graduated Marquette High School, which is Jesuit; went to St. Norbert College – the Norbertines; and finally Stritch – the Franciscans. I think I have a pretty well-rounded background.”

In addition to being professionally rewarding, Schramka’s role as a religion teacher has helped him draw even closer to his own faith.

“I thought teaching religion would be the best fit for me,” he explained. “Maybe it was part of my own faith journey. It’s been a gift, and that’s how I look at it.”

Although his two careers have been distinctly different, Schramka’s work in funeral services uniquely prepared him to relate to his students.

“In my first career, I was blessed to work closely with families, and they let me in during their most difficult times,” he explained. “Now as a coach and teacher, I transfer what I’ve learned about patience and being a good listener.”

In his work with high school students about to embark on a new chapter in their own lives, Schramka hopes to lead by example.

“The best advice that I can give is, ‘Be open to change, and be who you are. And if you like what you do, you’ll still have to work hard, but it doesn’t feel as much like work.’”