Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: Riverbank priest died at church preparing for Mass

The Rev. Tony Chacko, here in September 2010  at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakdale, died a week before Thanksgiving while preparing for Mass in Riverbank.
The Rev. Tony Chacko, here in September 2010 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakdale, died a week before Thanksgiving while preparing for Mass in Riverbank. Modesto Bee file

From the emails, voice mails and other sources:

IN MEMORIAM – He worked alongside Mother Teresa in India. He defied the drug lords in Brazil and they tried to kill him for it, shooting him three times and leaving him for dead in 1996.

But they couldn’t kill the Rev. Tony Chacko, who spent five years at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakdale before moving to St. Francis of Rome in Riverbank. That is where he died of a heart attack exactly one week before Thanksgiving as he prepared to officiate the morning Mass. Chacko was 65.

Reporter Sue Nowicki wrote a compelling piece about Chacko in The Modesto Bee in September 2010. Chacko joined Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity as a 16-year-old in 1966. He taught children in the ghettos and served dying people in Calcutta. Assignments followed in Hong Kong, England, Italy and South America, including 23 years in Brazil. That is where he established a home for boys who were orphaned or abandoned by their families.

In doing so, Chacko angered the drug lords who wanted to use the boys as drug mules, knowing they wouldn’t incur the same kind of jail time as adults. In 1996, they sent henchmen to attack him in the chapel.

“At some point, they took me out to the garden nearby,” he told Nowicki. “They shot me there. They shot me three times, in my leg, my side, my chest. Then they left me; they thought I was dead.”

Instead, he survived and eventually came to California and the San Jose Diocese before moving to the Valley. Stops in Stockton and Tracy preceded his arrival in Oakdale as associate pastor at St. Mary’s in December 2009.

All of the services will be held at St. Joseph’s in Modesto, beginning Wednesday with visitation at 5 p.m., a rosary at 6 and a vigil at 7. The funeral Mass will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday, with Bishop Stephen Blaire officiating, followed by burial at 2 p.m. at the San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery in Stockton.

SPIRITED ADDITION – The fifth Spirit of Giving 5K Run/Walk will add a new dimension this year: Roll. Modesto native A.J. Mitchell, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, in recent years has completed marathons and is in the ShadowChase Running Club. His goal: to stage organized wheelchair events in Modesto.

So when the Spirit of Giving event commences Dec. 13 in downtown Modesto, he plans to participate and has challenged his able-bodied friends to compete with him and other racers with disabilities, event organizer Barbara Miller said.

She and other organizers added a wheelchair division that will include Mitchell, Fred Mytich and another disabled competitor, along with nine able-bodied racers. Mitchell rounded up extra wheelchairs and has been coaching some of the participants.

“It has meant a lot to A.J. that his friends are willing to give up running in this race to wheel in it,” Miller said.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the city of Modesto’s recreational scholarship program, the Modesto Gospel Mission and area food banks. It begins at 8:30 a.m. at Tenth Street Plaza in downtown Modesto.

SITTING TIGHT – Recently, I read a story online about how some cities are replacing some park and bus benches with ones that are less comfortable – or completely uncomfortable – for snoozing. They do this by installing anti-homeless “spikes” – hardware that makes stretching out and sleeping on the benches uncomfortable, if not impossible. Or they install single-seat benches. The concept has been criticized in some cities as an affront to the homeless.

Driving along Carver Road last week, The Bee’s Joan Lee and I noticed a gentleman sitting on one of the two single seats attached to opposite sides of the stop’s sign post. Surely, this meant anti-homeless seats are among us, right?

Wrong. Modesto Transit Manager Fred Cavanah told The Bee those single seats along Carver were among the dozen or so installed in recent years at stops that don’t get as much passenger traffic as others, and where there were no benches before. They won’t replace traditional bus benches elsewhere.

The single seat seemed fine to rider Sammy Rauls as he awaited a bus on Friday. “I like it,” he said. “I really do. It’s plenty comfortable.”

ALL ABOARD! – Model train enthusiasts take note: The San Joaquin Valley Toy Train Operators’ annual train show is always the first weekend in December, meaning it will be this weekend at the Stanislaus County Fairground in Turlock. It runs on schedule, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults or $10 per family, with children under 12 admitted free.

POINTS WELL TAKEN – A couple of California hunters emailed to correct the description of a buck I photographed recently, with the photos appearing in the print and online editions. I referred to it as a five-pointer, counting the three points on one side of his antlers, two on the other. That’s so East Coast, they tell me. Out here, California hunters call him a 3x2 (three on one side, two on the other). Duly noted and thus corrected.

By that standard, though, wouldn’t the Graffiti Statue in downtown Modesto be at 3x2 Points, not Five Points?

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.