Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fr. Memo: A Photo Essay

When I first read about the photo essay assignment, Columbian-born Fr. Gullermo Campuzano, C.M., was the first person I thought of. Called "Fr. Memo" or "Memo" by friends and students, he is a Vincentian priest and professor who works in University Ministry. Here, he's working on his schedule for the week. "I'm always busy," says Memo. "No free time for me." Fr. Memo has worked in Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Philadelphia, and now, Chicago.

Fr. Memo talks to Suzanne Gillen, a sophomore flute performance student.
Memo is actively involved in student culture on campus - he runs Vincentians in Action (VIA,) an organization dedicated to helping DePaul students discover how to practice Vincentian values in their lives after college.

In addition to being a priest and professor, Campuzano is also a pancreatic cancer survivor. He battled the disease for 18 years, and only travelled to the U.S. to seek treatment, never intending to stay. Here, he flips through a book of photos and notes about his cancer journey.

"This is me, presiding over a Mass," said Fr. Memo, the first figure on the left in the photo. "The day before, the doctor told me I had only six months to live, and here I am, saying Mass. Faith in God and faith in yourself can help you accomplish anything. I survived," he said.

Fr. Memo says that his biggest inspiration is his mother, Rubiella, pictured with him here in a photo that he keeps on his desk. "My family...growing up in Colombia...we didn't have much. By the end of the week, all we had to eat was usually rice, beans, and one tomato. My mother would make the rice and beans, and chop up the tomato very tiny, and give it to me and my brothers and sisters. I never knew we were poor. I thoguht it was the best meal in the world." Presently, Memo often makes his mother's rice, bean, and tomato dish for dinner.

Gillen contemplates Fr. Memo's cancer struggle. "This doesn't even look like you. It's like you're some whole other, better person," Gillen says. " I'm having such a hard time believing it's you."

Fr. Memo holds the photo of himself presiding over Mass while working in his office. "Can you believe it? Six months to live. Six months! And that was almost two years ago, and here I am."

I know this is a posed shot, but I must tell you that Fr. Memo INSISTED that I take a posed picture of him. "Here, like this. Make me look like a model. I'll be model Memo," he said, making both me and Suzanne, the student in the room, crack up.

** Full disclosure: I am a student in Fr. Memo's CTH 395 Special Topics in Vincentian Studies class.

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