As a government attorney, Kris Hulsebus fearlessly took on big corporate polluters for the Minneasota Pollution Control Agency.

And as a gentle soul, she mothered stray cats and searched for the spiritual lesson in whatever she did.

Hulsebus found her peace exploring tiny villages in southern France, hiking up a trail to Cobalt Lake in Montana's Glacier National Park, and listening to acoustic music in the 90-seat Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, the city she loved to visit each year for an annual music festival.

Hulsebus, 66, of St. Paul, died Jan. 26 after spinal-fusion surgery triggered a re-emergence of lymphoma, a blood cancer, which she'd fought off three years earlier.

She'd been a mentor to many younger attorneys.

"Kris took me under her wing and graciously taught me how to conduct environmental enforcement for the agency," said Lisa Woog, 39, a PCA compliance coordinator. "She taught me how to have confidence and courage in some incredibly difficult enforcement negotiations."

Hulsebus grew up in Carroll, Iowa, and earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Iowa. She taught junior high school in St. Paul before studying law at the University of Minnesota.

In 1976, she was admitted to the Minnesota Bar and went on to more than 35 years practicing real estate and public-interest law. She was involved in restorative justice as well, said friend Robin Keyworth.

Hulsebus was the first woman partner in the large law firm of Oppenheimer, Wolff and Donnelly. But she found her real passion representing the people as an attorney for the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, which she joined in 1991, and after that, at the PCA.

"At the agency, she was a teacher, a mentor and a tough negotiator when it came to polluters," said her former husband, Dave Nimmer. "She frequently would say she loved the people she worked with and they represented the best of public servants."

Hulsebus, who retired in 2011, often took to her comfy chair and ottoman in her back garden, reading until dark.

"She loved France and everything about it fiercely, reading its history and traveling its length and breadth," Keyworth said. "She visited as often as she could, sometimes with friends but often alone."

Hulsebus always felt as if she'd lived before — in France — and always referred to her higher power as "Spirit."

"She was a very, very beautiful person. Her spiritual path was cosmic, the interconnectness of all creation," said Sister Mary Frances Reis, a north Minneapolis nun whom Hulsebus befriended.

"Kris was crazy about Joan of Arc and understood her visions …" Keyworth said. "Kris was utterly devoted to St. Therese of Lisieux as well, talking to her each day in her spiritual practice."

Hulsebus' spinal surgery in September not only re-triggered cancer, it left her in a body cast and in pain.

As death drew near, Sister Mary Frances sat down one night to compose a prayer.

"May your precious friend St. Therese of Lisieux companion you on your final journey to the full embrace of Spirit," the nun wrote, in part. "Each Sister loves you. Into Spirit's hands we commend your spirit."

Fifteen minutes later and miles away, Hulsebus died.

She is survived by siblings Laurie Hinckley of Las Vegas and Anthony Hulsebus of Robbinsdale. A memorial service will be held at 5:30 p.m. March 3 at Spirit United Interfaith Church, 3204 Como Av. SE., Minneapolis.