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Inside NCR

New faithful faces feature; and an artist who plucked poor faces from far places

The language is full of phrases such as “faces in the crowd” to denote the majority of us who elude the spotlight or fail to find the 15 minutes of fame that artist Andy Warhol so famously promised us. At a more banal level, one recalls hotelier Leona Helmsley telling her maid that “the little people pay taxes” (meaning that important people like herself don’t). More poetically, Thomas Gray speculated that “some mute, inglorious Milton” might be at rest in his local country churchyard, an unsung hero. Though our culture chases the so-called rich and famous, thoughtful people know that the world is thick with people, supposedly average, whose stories are more fascinating and inspiring than their better-known fellows.

With this issue we begin a new biweekly series, Keeping Faith, which will pluck from the population faces you won’t find in the checkout counter tabloids. We don’t claim they are saints, heroines or heroes, but we do claim they are important. They have, like everyone, amazing interior, imaginative lives, joys, achievements and vicissitudes that even their best friends might not suspect. These mini-portraits will by no means do justice to such rich lives (the book we believe is in all of us), but we will briefly salute them for keeping faith.

This is primarily a project of staff writer Teresa Malcolm, who has by various means found an initial batch of candidates. Hereafter we hope to rely on our readers for subjects -- those you know and admire. Tell us why they deserve the customary 15 minutes in the NCR spotlight and enclose a picture if you have one.

Many extraordinary people have been associated with NCR over the years. Too many of them died before their time, including Mev Puleo of St. Louis who died at 32 of a brain tumor in 1996.

At a young age Mev fell in love with the poor. She became a photographer. On an early trip to Latin America, art and aspiration came together. Thereafter, in many countries, she sought out the children and the voiceless and gave them a presence in the First World, insisted we see and respond. Many of her pictures have graced these pages.

She turned to writing and lecturing. As time ran out, she rushed to make a video, her last will and testament. I visited Mev and her husband, Mark Chmiel, shortly before her death -- one of the last days she was coherent. She was frantic, even at that late stage, to save the world.

Now the McNamee Gallery of Samuel Cupples House at St. Louis University has mounted an exhibition, “Mev Puleo: Witness to Life.” There is a splendid catalog, from which this photo is taken, which will become a collector’s item. More than catalog, it’s a memorial. The price is $12. Call the gallery at 314-977-3025.

National Catholic Reporter, February 20, 1998