Cathy Peissig, parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Stetsonville, stands with Bishop James P. Powers at the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s annual conference. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Editor’s note: Six women were recognized as finalists for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2021 Pax Christi Award. Awards were presented at the SDCCW’s annual convention Aug. 5 in Medford.

Even though Cathy Peissig lives very close to where she grew up, her life’s twists and turns have taken her to places most hope to never visit.

A finalist for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2021 Pax Christi Award, Peissig’s perspective and tone harken back to the biblical adage, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him.”

Peissig was raised on a dairy farm in Dorchester in a family with seven children. Her family’s farm was just south of where she lives now, about one mile into the Diocese of La Crosse. She and her husband continued living on his family’s dairy farm and raised their own children there.

Acknowledging the “Midwest spirit” of pulling yourself by the bootstraps, Peissig faced difficulty early on. Due to school redistricting, the young woman attended three different high schools without ever moving.

Her boyfriend, whom she planned to marry the summer after graduation, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in the fall of her senior year.

“I just went through it,” she said. “I don’t really (think) I ‘handled’ it; neither did my parents.”

They let “time heal” and in her case, having grown up taught by nuns and wanting to be one, the circumstances of her loss led to her enrollment at the nearby teacher’s college.

“In the end,” she discovered, “I found out it wasn’t that I wanted to be a nun, but I wanted to teach.”

“God has a reason,” she stated, adding that being led into teaching was “awesome … We just know God is in control.”
It was while she was earning her teaching certificate that she met her husband. They were married in 1967, and after Peissig taught for one year, she stayed home to raise their children. The first three arrived within two-and-a-half years, with another three being more spread out.

“It all worked to the best,” she affirmed and said how much they love each one – their six children and 22 grandchildren.

After farming with her husband for 25 years and with the oldest three in college, Peissig took the opportunity to go back to school to finish her degree. The younger kids were in elementary school, and she drove 75 miles one way to Stevens Point.

However forward-thinking she was, Peissig had been diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time she was going back to school. Her student-teaching assignment was in Marshfield, and after school she would head to the clinic for her chemotherapy.

“It was a struggle,” she said, “But looking back, it went by pretty fast.”

She acknowledged she was really too busy to allow the treatments to affect her too much. There was some hair loss, but she was grateful she didn’t experience many other side effects. The three children still at home stepped up, she said. “You just did what you had to do.”

Peissig mentioned that their fourth child, a son who was a senior in high school at the time, was most affected by her illness.

“He was the one who really took that to heart,” she said, noting that he’s always been a little more protective of her.

Despite her husband’s return to farming and Peissig having no intention of teaching full time, the Medford school superintendent approached her, expressing his need for a “mature teacher” for a particular sixth-grade class. She retired after 20 years teaching that grade and substituted for another 10 years after that.

As a teacher, her commitment to her students’ learning and her innovative methods earned Peissig recognition.

In 2016, Peissig was diagnosed with myeloma – a cancer of the blood and bone – which is treatable but not curable. She underwent a stem cell transplant, which was successful for three years. In January 2020, another transplant was needed, and she is currently on a once-monthly chemo regimen.

“It doesn’t look like there’ an end to that,” she said. “Hey, I’m up and about and going…”

Peissig actually considers herself “lucky” and is thankful for the myeloma, considering how many suffer with more serious cancers.

Through it all, she hadn’t allowed the challenges to depress her or steer her away from God, as quoted in the essay her parish CCW submitted for Peissig’s nomination.

“Instead, it was that very faith which supported her fight,” the dossier read, explaining how Peissig proceeded with the treatments, “all the while praying that she could stay on earth longer to continue her care and passion for others.”

Her fellow CCW sisters see that God granted that wish and witness to her example of re-engaging the battle “so that she can continue to spread the gifts God has given her.”

In Peissig’s own words, “I have lived a great life, and if God feels it is time for me to spend eternity with him, then so be it.”

Continuing to spread God’s love through service is the answer she has gotten so far.

One of the finalist’s favorite projects is making fleece blankets for others in physical or spiritual need. “Blessed blankets,” she calls them, and the local priest blesses the blankets before Peissig gives them out accompanied by a prayer.

It is “so rewarding, they just appreciate it so much,” she said, referring to both the blanket and the visit she makes to distribute them.

“We’ve all suffered,” she acknowledged.

Music has also played a key role in Peissig’s life and resilience. For almost 45 years, she has played the piano and organ for Masses, weddings, funerals and other parish events.

She enjoys distance walking and determines her route by how many rosaries she has prayed, all considered “cherished time” spent praying for others.

Peissig recognizes that everyone struggles.

“Every family has to have a struggle,” she said, and chuckled, “You don’t appreciate the good times if you don’t have a struggle.”

Putting things in perspective and learning how to deal with difficulty are, Peissig affirmed, not bad things, just parts of life and never something to run away from.

She recounted the tragedy of a niece who was in a car accident while pregnant and lost her baby.

“Grant (the baby) has done so much for this world – it’s unbelievable,” Peissig added. The grieving couple was able to put up a playground for handicapped kids in his honor. They host a blood drive every year and have donated to many causes.

Peissig said it had “just been amazing, just amazing” how much Grant has done in this world without taking a breath outside his mother’s womb.

For her, the key is in the meaning we give to the struggles faced. “The reason can be in our hands. It doesn’t always become clear right away – but then something will connect, and you realize” the good that can be made present.