Though not ones to seek attention, Jerry and Barb Heil are now in the spotlight and their lives of faith speak for them, said Father John Mitchell, the former pastor of St. Piux X parish in White Bear Lake who presided at a memorial service Feb. 18 for the couple believed to have perished in a January cruise ship accident.
“So many people are hearing about their life and how God was important to them,” said Fr. Mitchell, now pastor at Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights who knew the Heils, both active, longtime St. Pius X parishioners. “It’s good for people to hear that.”
Nearly 800 people attended the memorial service, which included readings and prayers by several of the Heils’ 14 grandchildren and a eulogy by the youngest of their four children.
The Heils and 13 others who have not been found are among 32 presumed dead after the Costa Concordia cruise ship hit a reef near a Tuscan island off the Italian coast and capsized on Jan.13. Italian authorities suspended their search of the ship at the end of January due to dangerous conditions.
At the service, Nathan Heil spoke of the family symbolically crossing a bridge in the grieving process with the memorial service. Though dealing with the loss of their parents has been very difficult, their parents’ example of faith and belief in God has helped them cross over the difficulties, he said.
Said Father Mitchell, “They really believe that their parents are at peace now. I think that’s helped. And today hopefully helped them, too.”
The family has received an outpouring of prayer and support, said Deacon John Lorbach, director of worship at St. Raymond Church in Mt. Prospect, Ill., where another son of the Heils and his family are parishioners. The parish has been praying for the family, along with those at St. Pius X, even sending prayers and condolences through Facebook at the time of the memorial service, said Deacon Lorbach, who represented St. Raymond parish at the service.
Jerry and Barb Heil both served frequently at St. Pius X, sometimes in different and complementary ways, Father Mitchell said. While they attended daily Mass together, Jerry enjoyed being involved in Bible studies and catechetical programs, both as a teacher and participant. Barb liked hands-on service; for many years she served the homeless as a volunteer at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.
“Jerry would be teaching a Bible study and Barb would be at it with a plate of cookies,” recalled Father Mitchell.
As they were together in life during 43 years of marriage, the Heils were together in their final moments, even though we don’t know exactly what happened, Father Mitchell said.
“I think that brought them a lot of strength to face whatever came,” he said. “They had each other and they had their faith. God was there with them. I think that can bring us comfort. And we entrust them now to God’s love and mercy.”