09/04/2014 16:42

Life story of Fr. Ferruccio Zuccolo, SVD

As told by Fr. Franco Zocca, SVD with some additions from Bp. Francesco Sarego.

They called him Fr Frank here in PNG but his real name was Ferruccio, which in Italian means “little iron”. His name describes quite well his character. He was born in a small village near Udine in 1935, to a poor family of six, who had to struggle to survive especially during and after the Second World War. The war delayed also his enrolment at the primary village school. He used to bring the one goat of the family to pasture and he missed some years of schooling because of the war. One day with two other friends while bringing the goat and the others were bringing the geese to pasture they started challenging each other about their future. The two friends said that one wanted to become a nun, the other a priest, and Ferruccio said that he was also interested in becoming a priest but it was not possible for him because of the poor situation of the family. So the three decide to approach the assistant priest who, at the end, was willing to help him. While they were talking with the priest the geese went on their own, so they had to go around to collect them but they could not find the goat. So all three were worried but after more searching they found the goat inside the parish church... possibly she was also praying for a good result of their dialogue with the assistant parish priest.

(The young girl became a nun and professed in 1965, the other became a priest in 1966 and Ferruccio in 1967. Of the three the nun has already died and the priest is still alive and he was a good friend of Ferruccio.)

So the assistant priest noticed in him the potentiality of becoming a good priest and paid for his school fees for several years. After the primary school he joined the SVD minor seminary in Varone (Trento) where he completed the junior secondary school. Ferruccio was very creative. He was interested in playing chess so much that as a student he carved his own set of chess, a beautiful wok. He was very good in gymnastic. He used to walk the iron bar three meters above the ground. He was also good in performing in a theatre; he would keep the audience alive even when things went wrong during the performances. He was a very jovial character.

He then moved to Rome for his noviciate and the three years of senior secondary school. He was well over twenty when in 1959 he was sent to the SVD seminary of St Gabriel in Vienna for his philosophical studies. He then helped out for a year at the minor seminary of Varone before commencing his theological studies in Rome in September 1963. He was ordained a priest in 1967 at the age of 33. Not much later he started his work in Papua New Guinea and was assigned to the diocese of Madang. As far as I know he worked, among others, in the parishes of Bundi (1968-1972) and Utu (1972-1979), before being assigned to Manam Island, where he spent the greater part of his missionary life providing for the spiritual and material welfare of his people (1979-2009).

While he was in Bundi, considering the difficulties of long walking in visiting the oustations he thought that it would be a good thing to have an airstrip somewhere in the bush near Yandara. So he managed to buy a tractor/bulldozer FIAT which arrived in Alexishafen, but the project was never realized because Abp Nosed transferred Ferruccio to Utu. 

In 1999, at the age of 64, he had a heart attack and was forced to go back to Italy for a heart operation, in which he received a triple bypass. A few year later two stents were also inserted in order to keep his coronaries open. He suffered from other sicknesses as well, like malaria, hepatitis and, more recently, diabetes. A part from that, the eruption of the Manam volcano, the destruction of much of what he had built during the years, the evacuation of the great majority of his people, and their struggle to survive in their care centres, often amidst the hostility of the landowners, were also terrible blows to his energetic spirit. Only God knows how much he had to suffer in the last few years both physically and spiritually.

The parish of Manam was not an easy parish and Ferruccio had to stand sometimes against some big shots "kukurai" proclaiming himself as  "kukurai" from the side of the 'lotu' in that way gaining respect for himself. They might sometimes have abused him but he took it always positively having in mind to do anything for the good of the people.

When he was sick a few months ago he told bishop Francesco that he would like him to preach at his funeral. He probably felt that death was approaching. Bishop Francesco was not in PNG at the time of his death and funeral, being for treatment in Italy. But he was certainly spiritually present at the funeral, praying for the eternal rest of this “little iron” who had dug hard in God’s vineyard.