Graduation is a day every Xavier student anxiously awaits, but few can say they’ve waited longer than Mary Hulefeld. In May, Hulefeld was one of 953 to receive a graduate degree—joining 833 who received an undergraduate degree—at this year’s commencement. The awarding culminated a 30-year saga that began with a lost thesis and now ends with a renewed purpose in life.
In 1979, Hulefeld was in the middle of an unexpected move. Her husband, Rick, accepted a position as director of the Cathedral Child Development Center—a Montessori childcare center that works with inner city families. As a former sister of the Daughters of Charity, Hulefeld once took a vow to serve the poor and now it seemed as important than ever to fulfill her duty. But she still had one small task to finish—her thesis. And to add to the chaos of moving and renovating the school, the professor of the course moved to Pennsylvania and told Hulefeld to mail it. Referencing her hand-written notes, she typed her “Infant Stimulation and Mother Training” thesis on an early computer, printed off one copy and sent it off.
Weeks passed and she heard nothing. Then, she heard the news: The professor died, and her paper was never accounted for. She thought about rewriting her thesis, but discovered she lost her notes in the move. “I knew I had done the work, and I was gratefull for all that I had learned,” she says. So she dedicated herself to her family and helping grow the center, which was renamed Children’s Inc., into the largest private childcare center in Kentucky. Still, she’d think about her unfinished degree. Then, in March, she came across something she never thought she’d see again—her original thesis notes.
“What was lost was now found,” she says.
Without hesitation she began working on her paper. Receiving the degree, she says, has given her a sense of wholeness. “It’s a rededication to my life’s work.”