Antonio Checo, Episcopal Priest Who Stressed Service, Dies at 67

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2005, Antonio Checo became a mental health clinician at Mt. Sinai Queens hospital, one of his many jobs devoted to helping people.

And it was there, on April 1, that he died of complications of the coronavirus at 67.

In the intervening years he was ordained a priest and became the rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, Queens. As the Very Rev. Antonio Checo, he spent many of those years working full time in the church and at the hospital, allowing the practical service of his social work to inform his ministry.

The Rev. Jason Moskal, the deacon at St. Mark’s, confirmed the cause of death.

Father Checo took over St. Mark’s in 2009, when the congregation had dwindled to about 20 members. He helped revive the church, which now has a congregation of about 180 people. His parishioners included African-Americans, Latin-Americans, white people and immigrants from South America, the West Indies and the Philippines.

Father Checo enlarged the church’s food pantry, emphasizing staples like rice on which people in his neighborhood relied; conducted two Sunday services, one in English and one in Spanish; and did his best to ensure that his parishioners were able to navigate New York City’s bureaucracy to receive the help they needed.

Combining “social work and the priesthood worked very well for him because he stayed in tune with the real world,” Father Moskal said. “He understood the tribulations he was seeing at the hospital and meshed that with the people he was seeing in the church.”

Antonio Checo was born in Santiago, the Dominican Republic, on May 6, 1952. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from a Catholic university there, then moved to New York City in 1982, where he earned a master’s in social work from Fordham University in the Bronx.

He worked for the New York Department of Social Services for 18 years, then joined the Red Cross Sept. 11 Recovery Program after the 2001 terrorist attacks. After joining Mt. Sinai in 2005, he earned a master’s degree in theology the next year from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in Manhattan.

He was ordained a priest in 2007 and served in different capacities for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island before he became priest in charge of St. Mark’s, which falls within the diocese, in 2009. He was named the church’s fourth rector in 2016.

Father Checo is survived by his husband, Starlin, and several sisters.

Father Moskal said Father Checo had sometimes likened his faith to doctor’s orders for the soul.

“That’s how he crossed over the medical and the faith,” Father Moskal said. “We have the prescription. Jesus taught us what the prescription was.”

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