Father Ronald R. Saucci MM, a pillar of UCAN for over 25 years, passed away Sept. 1. Father Saucci was 81 years old and a Maryknoll priest for 51 years. His friend and UCAN's publisher Father William Grimm MM pays tribute to his mentor and guide and someone without whom UCAN would not still exist.
Last night, a friend called to say that our colleague, mentor and friend Maryknoll Father Ron Saucci has died. Ron 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 the call, 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. Ron was incredibly multi-talented. He hosted a popular TV program in the United States for years. He was a publisher, a film producer, a pastor and port chaplain in Hong Kong, an artist, a cook, a martial arts black belt, 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 UCA News and for decades kept this Asian church news agency alive through his ability to garner financial contributions for its operations.
Admittedly, some would also point out that if a fanfare were played for Ron Saucci, the likelihood is high that he would be among the trumpeters. He blew his own horn, something that especially bothered those who had only tin whistles upon which to peep. Those who loved him knew better.
One day, several carloads of priests were returning from a funeral, and stopped to visit a famous shrine. I was in Ron's car as we pulled into the huge, completely empty parking lot. Ron drove clear across the lot to a section reserved for clergy parking. As he pulled into one of the spaces, he said, "There — that should give them something to talk about." All I could say was, "Ron, sometimes you do an excellent Ron Saucci imitation." He smiled and said, "You figured it out."
Ron 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 idolized by the mainly Filipina congregation with which he celebrated the Sunday Eucharist 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 while allowing us to stumble along the way, even if sometimes our stumbles might take him down as well. Ron had great respect for the abilities, dreams and potential of youth.
When I was still a seminarian and Ron was in one of his stints as a department head at Maryknoll's 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 endured with uncharacteristic patience he said, "I would never enter the seminary today!" Ron calmly spoke on our behalf. "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.
Ron Saucci did not have a common touch. He did not need it. He was a common man. He had the foibles common to us all. But, he used those foibles for the sake of his vocation as a priest and missioner. He could touch and teach the common man in everyone, no matter how "uncommon" they might appear to others, or even themselves.
Just as for that congregation in Hong Kong, so too he 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.
As I wrote that last sentence with the radio tuned to another station, Copland's Fanfare started playing. An echo of heaven?
Father William Grimm, MM, is publisher of ucanews.com and is based in Tokyo.