A legacy of commitment, service and diligent quest for excellence
News of Sister Mary Laurence Budde’s death on July 30, 2013, triggered collective sighs throughout the Thomas More College community. Many remembered the impact she had on thousands of students, staff and faculty whose lives she touched during the 40-plus years she taught at TMC. Sr. Mary Laurence’s influence has been described as “life-changing” by many who fell under her tutelage. It’s unlikely there is a student who took her class who doesn’t remember her or credit her for helping him/her succeed in life in some way or another. Sr. Mary Laurence stood over six feet tall and normally dressed in full habit when she taught, so her stature alone commanded respect, but most likely it was her steadfast pursuit of pushing students to go above and beyond that prompted them to sit a little straighter in their seats and challenge themselves to dig deeper into their studies. It was obvious to everyone that she held high standards in her classroom and that she expected her students to share her passion for working diligently toward excellence. More importantly, however, she was a living example of commitment to one’s calling, sacrifice and service.
Among her many accolades, Sr. Mary Laurence is credited for helping found the Thomas More College Biology Field Station, a facility that today impacts the lives of not only TMC students but also students of all ages throughout the region. Originally, Sr. Mary Laurence was certified to teach math, but the College needed a biology professor. When asked to pursue a Ph.D. in biology, she simply responded to the need of the College and embarked on the ambitious task of earning her degree at Catholic University of America. Her willingness to do what was called for and step outside her comfort zone is an example of the commitment to service and sacrifice that Sr. Mary Laurence embodied. Although originally born out of necessity, her love of biology evolved into another true calling. She continued to respond to the needs of Thomas More College as her teaching career flourished, accepting the request to serve as interim dean not once, but twice.
Her connections to students and alumni are something for which Sr. Mary Laurence will always be remembered. Many say that it was not unusual for her to remember specific details about her students even long after they graduated. “She had an uncanny talent for knowing the precise year and graduation class students had been in long after they graduated. I believe that one of her biggest joys was her connections to Thomas More alumni and the lifelong relationships she fostered,” TMC Biology Professor and Director of the Biology Field Station Dr. Christopher Lorentz said.
Not only did she serve as an example for her students, but Sr. Mary Laurence served as an example for her colleagues as well. “She was very committed to the Biology Department, but the overall needs of the College came first. She demonstrated that individual gains are secondary to the institution. Her sense of community as a nun translated to her role here at TMC. She was very respectful of her peers,” Lorentz added. He noted that while her humility often downplayed her significant accomplishments, her influence had long-lasting effects. “Her life was a call to service from the beginning. There’s no doubt that we wouldn’t have the Field Station today if it hadn’t been for her influence.” Lorentz explained that she often dedicated herself to causes well outside her interest, setting aside any personal goals of her own. “At the time, acquiring and establishing the Field Station was not a popular choice, but she helped convince the College to go that route, knowing that the investment would eventually pay off, and of course, it did.”
There is no doubt that Sr. Mary Laurence influenced many at TMC. Her intolerance for mediocrity ignited a passion among her students to achieve well beyond their personal expectations, inspiring many of them to pursue dreams they never thought were possible. The following are just a handful of her former students’ remembrances.
Dr. Daniel Rutterer ’73 – “I probably would not have been a physician if it were not for Sr. Mary Laurence. She and Dr. Humphreys, Mr. Volker and Dr. Bryant were the pillars of a wonderful biology department at TMC. She was very tough but also very fair. Her tests were legendary and took all shapes, from fill-in-the-blank and matching (not as easy as they sound) to probing essay tests. However, it was after I graduated that I really got to know Sr. Mary Laurence on a much more personal level, and I realized she had been keeping in touch with many of her past students. She could tell you stories about each of them, and I realized how much they meant to her. On a personal note, I really feel that the letters of recommendation written by Sister were a major reason I was accepted into medical school at the University of Louisville. My situation was a little unique, and I believe that her insight into me as a person definitely influenced the admissions physician who interviewed me. She was a wonderful person, and to her credit, many of the physicians in the area also owe many thanks to her.”
Dr. Mary Ann Barnes ’77 – “Sr. Mary Laurence was brilliant, teaching us everything about biology from the most inner workings of the cells to how organisms live and work together. She knew each student and helped to mold them into the best they could be, academically, socially and spiritually. Her famously direct quips were so honest, but gentle, that she could get by with addressing the thorniest of issues with a smile.”
Gilbert R. Hageman, Ph.D. ’68 – “Sr. Mary Laurence Budde was the single most important teacher and mentor in my 20 years of formal education. Her life-principles were examples for all of her students. She was demanding in the classroom and fair with her students. Since my graduation more than 40 years ago, I have regularly corresponded with her and occasionally enjoyed lunch with her and my classmate, Ed Schneider. Naming the outdoor classroom at the Biology Field Station was a well-deserved honor for her. I shall miss her immensely.”
Dr. Sharon Schroeder Wynn ’89 – “Sister was one of the toughest and most thorough teachers I ever had, and this includes my medical school career. She was also one of my favorite teachers, and she definitely had a heart of gold. When I entered her biology class, I was a transfer from the nursing program at Thomas More. I wasn’t really sure that I could hack it in biology classes. She definitely didn’t accept any slacking. However, she did go out of her way to check on me and see if I was keeping up. I hope she is enjoying herself in Heaven.”
Bob Beck ’73 – “When I enrolled at TMC I intended to become a dentist, but after that initial summer at the Biology Field Station working with Sr. Mary Laurence, I completely changed career paths. I decided to get into environmental/energy policy. And the rest is history, as they say. I spent over 40 years at it, 31 of which were in the center ring in Washington, D.C., So you can see how dramatic an influence she had on me and my life. She definitely loved biology and, even more, she loved teaching it to her students. She was a huge sports fan, and she had the patience to see the long-term and big picture in all things.”
Dr. John Greifenkamp ’64 – “I started at Villa Madonna College in 1959, lacking preparation for college and feeling lost in a big city. Sr. Mary Laurence was appointed my mentor (I suspect because she had committed some terrible sin and needed major penance). I had a minus average at the end of the first year and a C- at the end of the second year. It did not make it any easier that I disagreed with everything Sr. Laurence advised me to do. Yet, she continued to hang in with a stubborn, struggling kid. In my third year, she asked, as a favor to her, would I report on a book called Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I reported it to a class of students and it went over like a bullet through fog. She then asked me to give it to another class, and I reluctantly agreed. I showed up and it was all professors. It was an intense, challenging exchange that changed me. She had given me a huge shove, and I knew anything was possible after that. I knew it. She knew it. We both knew it then. I had changed. I went on to do post-graduate work in biophysics and molecular immunology. I graduated from medical school in 1971 and have practiced medicine for 40-plus years. I still wonder what her sin was that she had to do the penance with me, but I’m sure that whatever it was she more than paid for it.”
About Sr. Mary Laurence
Born May 17, 1929 in Covington, Ky., Sr. Mary Laurence Budde was the third of seven children born to Lawrence and Anna Budde. She attended St. Thomas Elementary School and Notre Dame Academy, where she became acquainted with the Sisters of Notre Dame and entered the convent in her senior year. She professed her vows Aug. 10, 1949. After earning her initial degrees (B.A. math VMC 1953, M.S. botany and zoology Catholic University of America 1955), she achieved a Ph.D. in biology from Catholic University of America in 1958. Sr. Mary Laurence was the recipient of several National Science Foundation grants and numerous awards including the A.D. Albright Award and the Sears-Roebuck “Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award.” She retired in 1997 and was named professor emerita in biology that same year. In October 2011, the College dedicated the Sister Mary Laurence Budde, SND, Outdoor Classroom and Nature Trail; honoring her for years of work and vision in helping to bring to fruition a field station that is a one-of-a-kind center for applied biological research. She was actively involved in her religious community and served in various leadership positions. Sr. Mary Laurence died July 30, 2013, at the age of 84.