Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

The East Deanery finalist for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2022 Pax Christi Award has given tirelessly to her family, parish and community while overcoming her own set of challenges.

How she does it: With God-given strength, a kind heart and a joyful spirit.

A member of St. Kunegunda Catholic Church in Sugar Camp, Pam Cira has three grown children and five grandchildren.

She was originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. Her dad was career Air Force, so the family moved around a lot.
In young adulthood, Cira also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Texas.

“I am a city girl,” she said.

She met and married her husband in Milwaukee, and the family moved to the Eagle River area in 1993.

He was also from St. Kunegunda; he loved hunting, fishing and snowmobiling, so he wanted to move back up north, she said.

Cira grew to care deeply about the community, both inside her parish and beyond. Even when her husband “met a vegetarian from Florida and took off,” she added, “I stayed. I had fallen in love with being up here.”

Cira’s life had taken an unexpected turn.

“I never imagined that I would be divorced, ever. It was pretty much a shock to me,” she continued. “But I found, during the course of going through that, that God has provided me with the life I never thought I’d have, and that I absolutely love. I just feel incredibly blessed.”

Through it all, her parish and community supported her. A few years after her husband left, his mother grew ill and homebound. She asked to live with Cira, so Cira quit her job to stay with her mother-in-law, who required 24-hour care, until she died five months later.

Cira’s youngest child was still a senior in high school at the time, and she wanted to attend sporting events and “be a mom” to him, plus she had her own commitments to keep.

She approached her parish to ask for help. She had a list of dates and times when she needed someone to stay with her mother-in-law, and they never let her down, even covering Mass times so she could go to church.

The whole experience left her feeling blessed.

“What a gift that was to me,” she said of the time with her mother-in-law. “The sense of community and support in this parish is just amazing.”

She recalls going to her bank, a small independent one, after her husband left. One of the administrators stopped her, said he was sorry and asked if she would be OK.
“’I guess I will,’” she told him.

“He said, ‘Remember, if you need anything, we’re a bank.’”

She went out to her car and burst into tears.

“If I lived in a city, that never would have happened,” she added. The sense of community in a small town, “it’s just amazing.”

Cira’s professional life has included serving some of society’s most vulnerable – she worked for years in crisis counseling with sexual assault and domestic abuse victims – and she has been retired for 10 years. Currently, she works “an itty-bitty little part-time job” with the Aging and Disability Resource Center, which requires up to 200 hours of her time every year, and she devotes much of the rest of it to visiting family and doing good works.

In fact, Cira joked, retirement has given her the opportunity to do the volunteering work “the full-time job was interfering with.”

Her parish work has included serving as a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and a catechist for 25 years, along with being active in the Council of Catholic Women and joining the discipleship committee and weekly Bible study.

Cira also serves on the Diocese of Superior’s Pastoral Council.

“I like that a lot,” she commented. “It’s been very interesting, very fun – again – getting to meet people from across the diocese and talk about what different concerns there are across the diocese.”

Her community service – volunteering with the hospital auxiliary, the commission on aging and the homeless shelter – also gives her “an opportunity to learn something from all different kinds of people. People who are young, people who are old, people who have some challenges. Everybody has something to offer. I just like people.

“I don’t want to live with any of them,” she joked. “But I really like interacting with all of them.”

Cira’s spirituality can be summed up in her favorite quote by St. Teresa of Calcutta: “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

“That’s what I aspire to be,” Cira explained. “That’s what I aspire all of us to be” – an instrument that makes visible God’s love for the world.

In this season of Eucharistic Revival, Cira’s greatest love – the Mass and the Eucharist – are very much in fashion.

“That’s where I’m fed,” she said. “That’s my wedding.”

Cira was “stunned” to find out she had been named a finalist for the Pax Christi Award. Off the top of her head, she could think of many “more deserving” women from her own parish, let alone others.

“I’m really humbled by being nominated, let alone being selected,” she added.

Pam Cira