CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Fanfare for the common man

A veteran of many years in Hong Kong, Maryknoll Father Ron Saucci died at the society’s home in New York, the United States of America (US), on September 2.

He had been told more than nine years ago that he had only months to live, but as the hymn says, “Lord, I keep so busy workin’ for the kingdom... Ain’t got time to die.”

So, he kept working for the kingdom and his friends kept thinking that he just might keep going forever.

After I received a call telling me of his death, I went to my computer to send word to others. The radio was on and the announcer said that the next piece would be Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

“Yes, that’s Ron’s music,” I thought.

Fanfare would certainly suit him. Father Saucci was incredibly multi-talented. He hosted a popular television programme in the US for years. He was a publisher, a film producer, pastor and port chaplain in Hong Kong; an artist, a cook, a martial arts black belt and a businessman on behalf of the apostolate.

He set up contemporary China’s first Catholic printing plant. He was one of the early directors of the Union of Catholic Asian News and for decades kept this Asian Church news agency alive through his ability to garner financial contributions for its operation.

Admittedly, some would also point out that if there was a fanfare for Father Saucci, the likelihood is high he would be among the trumpeters. 

He blew his own horn, something that especially bothered those who had only tin whistles. Those who loved him knew better.

Father Saucci was the son of a Brooklyn pizzeria owner and he never stopped being so. He knew political, social, cultural and financial leaders around the world, but his happiest relationships were with waiters, parking lot attendants, gardeners and old men sitting on benches in Hong Kong.

He was idolised by the mainly Filipino congregation with which he celebrated Sunday Mass in Hong Kong. He had an uncanny ability that I envy as a preacher. He was not a scholar or theologian, but knew how to help his hearers open their hearts to respond to the Holy Spirit preaching within them.

He did it by sharing his own heart stories, but in such a way as to awaken his hearers’ own stories. 

Any time I heard him preach, I wished I could manage to do as he did, but I lack the humility that his bluster hid.

Those of us who worked with him experienced another aspect of that ability. He often detected talents that we ourselves did not know we had. 

And then he challenged us to explore and develop them and allowed us to stumble along the way, even if sometimes our stumbles may have taken him down as well.

Father Saucci had great respect for the abilities, dreams and the potential of young people.

When I was still a seminarian and he was on one of his stints as a department head at Maryknoll headquarters, he was at a table with a group of us students as we were being hounded by an older priest who was infamous for his ill-mannered assaults upon anyone and anything that smacked of Vatican II.

When in the course of a diatribe, which we seminarians were enduring with uncharacteristic patience, he said, “I would never enter the seminary today!”

Father Saucci calmly spoke on our behalf, saying, “Then shut up and give some respect to these men who are willing to do what you wouldn’t for the gospel.”

I had liked him before; that’s when I came to love him.

He did not have a common touch. He did not need one. He was a common man. He had the foibles common to us all. But, he used them for the sake of his vocation as a priest and missionary.

He could touch and teach the common man in everyone, no matter how uncommon they might appear to others, or even themselves.

Just as with his congregation in Hong Kong, he also helped everyone he met to touch the glory of God within each of us. He knew that the common man deserves fanfare.

May he be welcomed into God’s kingdom with heaven’s fanfare for the common man.

May he rest in peace.



Father Bill Grimm MM

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