Bodies of local couple in cruise ship disaster identified; family thanks rescuers, supporters

| April 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

A church steeple is seen in the foreground last Jan. 15 as the Costa Concordia cruise ship lies on its side after it ran aground off the west coast Italian island of Giglio. (CNS photo / Max Rossi, Reuters)

The family of Gerald and Barbara Heil, the couple missing at sea after their Italian cruise ship capsized, said it can finally “bring them home to rest” following the discovery and positive identification of their bodies.

Gerald and Barbara Heil, longtime members of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, were among the passengers on the Costa Concordia cruise ship that hit a reef off the Tuscan coast and rolled onto its side Jan. 13. Italian authorities continued to search the submerged parts of the ship after the incident that killed at least 30 people. Two people are still missing.

Gerald and Barbara Heil, pictured in an undated church directory photo.

“The rescue and recovery crew on the island of Giglio have been relentless in their mission to find the missing and have given us hope through this whole process,” the family said in a blog post April 17. “We cannot thank them enough for continuing to risk their lives in an effort to find our parents. Our hearts go out to the two families that are still missing loved ones. We will continue to hope and pray for closure for those families.”

The Heil family also thanked others in Italy as well as closer to home who stood by them and offered support during the last few months.

“Thanks to our friends, colleagues, neighbors, family and loved ones who were always there for us,” the Heil family said. “Thanks to all those who we have never met who sent us words of encouragement and prayer.”

Gerald and Barbara Heil both served frequently at St. Pius X, sometimes in different and complementary ways, said Father John Mitchell, a former pastor of the parish who spoke previously to The Catholic Spirit about the couple. While they attended daily Mass together, Gerald enjoyed being involved in Bible studies and catechetical programs, both as a teacher and participant. Barbara liked hands-on service; for many years she served the homeless as a volunteer at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.

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