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Maryknoller's Hong Kong in palm of his hand

NCR Staff
Hong Kong

Maryknoll Fr. Ronald R. Saucci doesn't just stop to smell the roses. He saves the dottle from his pipe, makes it into a weak "tea" and sprinkles it on the rose bushes to kill the aphids. It works.

This 61-year-old, growly voiced missionary, heavy-lidded and ruefully smiling, at 5-foot-7 looks and sounds like a vest-pocket John Wayne. He loves the garden at the house on Po Lam Road, a building known in some Maryknoll circles as "Saucci's Folly."

That's because eyebrows shot up almost a decade ago when Saucci, then director of the Union of Catholic Asian News agencies -- UCAN -- spent $240,000 to buy two adjoining houses and bang them into one as Hong Kong offices, seminar rooms, visitors' lodgings and residence for the Asiawide news service. At that time there was no city water, no public transportation.

To get a sense of the property's value today in real estate-mad Hong Kong, add a zero to the purchase price.

In Catholic Hong Kong, Saucci's name is known.

"Father Saucci?" said the Governor of Hong Kong, Christopher Patten, "He's a character."

Saucci knows it and revels in it.

To find Saucci most days, look for him on the fourth floor of the harbor front building at Fenwick Pier on Lung King Road. There he has an office with a million-dollar view of the magnificent and busy harbor. He keeps an eye out for approaching military vessels -- he serves as Catholic "chaplain" to the free world's navies when they're in Hong Kong.

He's a man with fingers in so many pies he runs out of hands.

In Hong Kong, he's landlord to McDonald's waterfront restaurant on Fenwick Pier. In Shanghai, he's technical adviser to a printing plant. For UCAN, he is deputy executive director and fund-raiser. "I never feel like a beggar because I'm proud of what we do," he said ebulliently. "Given our track record, I never felt that I had to go hat in hand."

He is executive director of Serviceman's Guides Association, the Fenwick Pier navy connection, where he edits the annual 110-page Servicemen's Guide, a pocket-size guide with a 50,000 circulation that offers servicemen the do's, don'ts and must-sees of Hong Kong in encapsulated form.

Saucci, Brooklyn-born son of an Argentinian-Italian-American master plumber, helps out in local parishes. "Good preacher," is the verdict of Martin Lee, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party.

Saucci's work with Maryknoll has added Cantonese to the languages he speaks -- Italian, French and Spanish. He has an artist's eye for space, light and a bargain. During the alterations of the house on Po Lam Road, he had the main lounge windows lowered so the roses now peek over the windowsill.

The lounge is furnished with handsome and comfortable gray leather chairs and couches bought used from the U.S. Consulate. Saucci, who admits to being garrulous, leaned back in one of those leather chairs and talked. At times the talk turned serious.

He was serious when telling of the death of his close Maryknoll friend, Fr. Tom Takahashi, from cancer. At the time, Saucci, on a home service stint, was Maryknoll's New York-based social communications director. He moved his computer into Takahashi's sickroom and worked there until he died.

Most weekends lately Saucci takes the ferry to Lantau Island. There he sits and talks or shops with another man with cancer, an 89-year-old Englishman who has outlived his Hong Kong colleagues and whose family is in Britain.

Weekdays Saucci swings out the steel gates of the house on Po Lam Road, hops into his top-of-the-line Audi, nips through the tunnel and heads to Fenwick Pier.

Lord of all he surveys in the name of the Lord? Well, something like that.

National Catholic Reporter, October 25, 1996