Reporting John Lauritsen
WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — The Heils are long-time members of St. Pius X Catholic Church in White Bear Lake, and their friends say they go to mass nearly every day and are very active in prayer groups.
In response to the news that the couple was missing in Italy, the church had people pray around the clock in hope of a rescue. Dennis Bechel is one of those praying.
“This is like a big family. To lose someone or miss someone like this… it makes it hard,” he said.
What makes the situation for friends and family difficult is all that is unknown. The Heils were on a 16-day vacation aboard the Costa Concordia when it crashed into rocks near the Italian Coast on Friday. As of Monday, 29 people are still missing, including the Heils, who have four children and 15 grandchildren. Rescuers have been searching underwater, looking for survivors.
The search, however, was stalled Monday, because the cruise liner shifted.
Although media across the nation are hoping for the couple is found safe, Duane Jabas, one of their friends, said the couple was never one to seek the spotlight.
“[Jerry Heil] was the silent leader, the type that could step in and make the event a success,” he said.
Before he retired, Jerry Heil, 69, worked in the University of Minnesota’s agriculture department. At church, he’s been an active member of the Knights of Columbus. He and his wife would also set up Bible studies and teach Catholicism to adults.
Friends and family are left hoping that someone is looking out for the Heils.
Elizabeth Fucini, a St. Pius church member, is feeling for the couple’s family.
“I can’t imagine what their family is going through,” she said. “That must be really, really hard.”
The Heils family said they will not talk to media until they hear an update from the U.S. Embassy in Italy about the couple’s condition. In a letter sent out Monday, they said: “We are waiting patiently for the rescuers to safely try to find our parents…. We are working closely with the U.S. Embassy in Italy and are confident that everything is being done to find our parents.”