In attending St. Lawrence, Coleman, who goes by the name Nana, was following in the footsteps of his older brother, Papa-Ekow, now 25. Another brother, Papa-Kwesi, 26, is a graduate of Marquette University High School.
“I looked at Marquette, too,” said Coleman, “but it seemed like St. Lawrence was a more fitting environment for me.”
Founded in 1860 by Capuchin Franciscans, St. Lawrence Seminary, located about 60 miles north of Milwaukee, is a private, Catholic, residential school for young men. The campus is comprised of 13 buildings on 80 acres atop a hill in the rolling countryside.
The Coleman boys’ distinctive first names are part of the culture of Ghana, a west African country from which their parents emigrated in the 1970s. Coleman’s father, Bill, is a certified public accountant and his mother, Agatha, is a registered nurse.
“All my life has been in Catholic education,” said Bill Coleman, a graduate of DePaul University. “It’s structured and it’s values-based.”
At St. Lawrence, Nana Coleman, a 2010 graduate, was involved in forensics and basketball and was selected by the faculty to attend Badger Boys State. Like the rest of the 200-member student body, Coleman studied theology for four years, participated in daily prayers, attended Mass three times a week and went on retreats.
“The service ministry program is big, and that was one of the biggest takeaways for me, to make that a habit,” said Coleman, whose volunteering included service to nursing home residents, Special Olympics athletes and children of incarcerated individuals.
“At St. Lawrence, you do get exposed to a big range of people,” he said. “Senior year is where I got to put a lot of that into practice, and think about how I’m going to put what I learned into my life – to make my faith manifest.”
Bill Coleman calls the Catholic schools emphasis “service above self.”
“That always comes before, ‘How much money am I going to make?’” he added.
Dennis Holm, a science teacher at St. Lawrence, said he saw Coleman mature into a “well-rounded young man of faith,” citing the mission trip and Coleman’s approach in Holm’s biology II class.
“His interactions and reflections on the mission trip, and his desire to ‘learn’ and ‘experience’ the material presented in class showed that it had become more than just doing the right thing or getting the good grade,” explained Holm.
Capuchin Fr. Dennis Druggan, rector/president of St. Lawrence, cited Coleman’s “good insights and keen intellect,” as well as his wit, sensitivity and patience.
“He fit in at St. Lawrence Seminary as a high school student because it easily became part of his already extended family,” said Fr. Druggan.
Coleman is a freshman at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. There, he’s involved in studies, service ministry and a newly formed college chapter of the Knights of Columbus at the St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Student Center.
“I’ve hit the real world now,” said Coleman, who is majoring in actuarial science. “It’s a balancing act.”
College freshmen also must deal with the freedom of being away from home, but having lived at St. Lawrence eased the transition for Coleman.
“Having that grounding from St. Lawrence, I know I’m here for a reason,” he explained. “God gave me a skill set, and it’s ‘what do I do with it?’ It’s having that focus.”
For one thing, Coleman said he hopes to encourage more African-Americans to study math and science.
“I want to be as involved as I can for a purpose that helps someone out,” he said. “It would be nice if I could do that for my day job. It sounds cliché, but I want to leave the world better than where I found it.”
The Colemans, who live in Glendale, are longtime members of Blessed Trinity Parish in Milwaukee. The two older sons attended the parish school, and Papa-Ekow is a graduate of Creighton University.
The Catholic ties are strong in the Colemans’ extended family, too. Agatha Coleman’s father, Anthony Mensah, is a retired deacon at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Milwaukee. A nephew will be a freshman next year at St. Lawrence.
“I’m very confident in the Capuchin education, particularly for minorities,” said Bill Coleman. “St. Lawrence is a hidden jewel of the archdiocese.”