By Jessica Easthope
A man of service and a father to all is how Father Gioacchino Basile is described by those who knew him best. His life was tragically cut short April 4. He is the second priest serving in Brooklyn and Queens to die from coronavirus.
A video of Fr. Gioacchino Basile singing at a priest’s retreat is how his closest friend, Father Sean Manson, wants to remember him.
“He was full of joy. He wasn’t pompous, he wasn’t preachy, he was a down to earth guy. You saw that God exists looking at him,” explained Fr. Sean, pastor of Our Lady Mother of the Church in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
Fr. Gioacchino was already on medical leave from his duties as pastor at St. Gabriel’s when it was discovered he had contracted coronavirus.
“He always had a smile and made you feel welcome, he heard my confessions and was always available. He was a spiritual father to me,” recalled Father Miguel Angel Cervantes, now acting pastor at St Gabriel’s. He believes Fr. Gioacchino contracted the virus at church.
“We had positive cases of coronavirus in the parish and that’s how he got the virus,” he said. “He was in contact with the people when no one knew it was present. “
East Elmhurst is one of the hardest hit communities in New York City, with low-income and predominantly immigrant-rich areas bearing the brunt of the virus.
According to the latest data from the Health Department, East Elmhurst has anywhere from 300 to nearly 1,000 cases. Fr. Sean said his good friend Fr. Gioacchino was dedicated to helping those most impacted.
“For these people who are living in poor, disenfranchised areas, they’re living on top of each other, so it’s easy to say we need to socially distance ourselves but it’s very difficult,” he said.
Fr. Gioacchino’s parishioners considered him a spiritual guide, looking to him during times of sadness and grief. Jessie Lema is one of them.
“Maybe because I loved him so much, he was a saint,” she said. “I give thanks to God that he gave me the chance to know him.”
Jessie said she needs Fr. Gioacchino’s wisdom more than ever. As cases of COVID-19 skyrocket, news of his death is another heartache for people who have already lost so much.
“The only thing we can rely on is our faith in God, the only vaccine we have right now is to pray,” she explained.
Fr. Gioacchino would have celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination this year.
St. Gabriel’s vicar, Father Bob Sandlack, had been serving alongside Fr. Gioacchino for years. He said his parish has lost a father, and he has lost a friend.
“In any situation he was able to laugh. He had an uplifting spirit, nothing saddened him,” he recalled. “I’ll miss his love.”
A memorial Mass for Fr. Gioacchino at St Gabriel’s will be live streamed on Wednesday, April 8, at 3:30 p.m., and when social distancing is no longer required, a public Mass will be held in his honor.