Joan and Bill Schramm have learned a lot from their two sons. The most important lesson, according to Bill, is that “Life does not need to be perfect to be wonderful.”
Billy, 27, and Patrick, 25, were born to Joan and Bill with similarly severe mental and physical disabilities. They also were born with strikingly joyful and generous spirits that they share openly with St. Damien parish and the Ocean City community at large. “Billy and Patrick are apostles of Christ just by virtue of being themselves,” their father explained. That means their parents have the unique blessing of being chaperones to apostles.
“We learned early that the boys like to be out and about,” Joan said, as she and her husband recounted a wide range of activities that fill the calendar. Both sons volunteer at the assisted living community, Wesley By the Bay, where they help to set up events and where Billy helps to deliver mail to residents. They volunteer at the Ocean City Library book sales. They are volunteer gardeners at the Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City. They groom horses. Patrick volunteers at a farm in Tuckahoe. When the brothers are not volunteering, you might see them walking or biking with their father on the boardwalk or swimming at the municipal aquatic center or taking in a concert at the library.
Bill and Joan have learned to appreciate the positive impact that their sons have on other people’s lives. “They have a gift,” Bill said. “The way they smile. The way they love life.” It is not unheard of for Joan and Bill to discover someone has anonymously paid their restaurant bill or, even once, their hotel bill as a grateful response to the purity of heart that Billy and Patrick demonstrate to those around them. The brothers’ gusto for life moves others to focus on the positive aspects of life.
The Schramms arranged their lives so that one parent would always be at home with their sons. When the boys were small, Joan stayed home while Bill pursued his career in numerous financial management positions at General Electric. As the boys grew older, the parents switched roles. Joan is now a consultant working for KPMG, an international accounting firm, and Bill is home. Until two-and-a-half years ago, the family lived in Haddon Heights. When their small Ocean City summer house was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, they decided to build a larger house and make it their year-round residence. Moving to Ocean City was a leap of faith. “This is a senior community, so as a special-needs family we weren’t sure what to expect,” Bill reflected. “But things have worked out really well. The parish and the community are so welcoming and inclusive. We have a full life.”
That full life includes attending mass frequently, on Sundays and weekday afternoons. “The boys love church,” Bill said. In addition, Patrick, who otherwise has no interest in television, watches Mass and the saying of the Rosary on EWTN. “He will sit on the couch, get out his rosary, and not move,” his father explained. “It is a sixth sense. He sees something we don’t see.” Joan and Bill are grateful that they had both been raised in families with strong Catholic faith traditions. “Faith offers you a different perspective on life,” Bill said. “It gives you strength when you need it,” Joan added.
The Schramms will sometimes participate in mass from the choir loft when it is unoccupied. One day when they entered the choir loft they realized musicians were up there. “We were invited to join in, so we did,” Bill said. Just as the homily was ending, Patrick decided to clap his hands. The sound was picked up by the live microphone, setting off a burst of applause from the rest of the congregation. That is infectious joy.