WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. (AP) — From turning out for blood drives to pitching in at homeless shelters, the Minnesota couple missing since last week’s cruise ship disaster in Italy could always be counted on to help out, friends say.

As those friends now await the news of Barbara and Jerry Heil’s fate, they have turned to each other, and the religious faith the couple so deeply embraced, for support.

“There’s always hope. And if we can hope that there’s a miracle, we’ll keep praying,” Mark Peterson, who has known the Heils for years, said as he was walking into a prayer service for the couple Wednesday evening.

“It’s like we’re family and when some member of your family has a tragedy, you rally around,” said Peterson, who was among about 450 who attended the service at the Church of St. Pius X.

The Heils, of White Bear Lake, are the only Americans unaccounted for among the more than 4,200 people aboard the Costa Concordia when it struck a reef Friday near Tuscany. The Heils were listed among the 21 people still missing, according to an official tally released Wednesday by Italian authorities.

Authorities have confirmed that 11 people died. Family members said in a blog posting Wednesday that they have learned the Heils are not among those passengers whose bodies were recently recovered.

Friends have described the Heils as devout Catholics who spend part of almost every day at St. Pius, where Jerry Heil, 69, teaches religious classes and Barbara, 70, hands out baked goods to parishioners. Erickson said the couple joined the church in 1973 and their four children attended its elementary and middle school.

Duane Jabas, who also spoke at Wednesday’s service, became choked up as he said he would miss the way Jerry meticulously folded napkins for the parish anti-abortion breakfasts. He said his friend, “manifested the virtue of charity.”

“Brother Jerry and Lady Barbara. What a wonderful couple,” Jabas said. “If you saw Jerry, Barb was not far behind.”

Some family members were present at the vigil, including one of the Heils’ granddaughters, Lexi, who spoke during the service. She asked everyone to continue to pray for her grandparents, others affected by the tragedy, and the rescuers.

“My grandparents have such a strong faith and they have shared that with me over the years. They have always been ones to look up to and model myself after,” she said.

The church went dark at the end of the nearly hourlong service as those gathered inside lit candles for the Heils — each person lighting the candle of his or her neighbor until everyone was holding a flame.

In their blog post, family members said they were praying conditions at the Costa Concordia would improve so authorities could resume search operations, which were suspended after the ship shifted slightly on the rocks, creating concerns about the safety of divers and firefighters searching for the missing.

“While it is certainly hard for us to see the recovery efforts stall due to the unstable conditions present at and around the Costa Concordia, we are also very concerned for the safety of the Italian Coast Guard as they continue to put forth a heroic effort in trying to find those who remain missing,” the family said in the blog.

In Italy, prosecutors are investigating the ship’s captain for manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck after he took an unauthorized detour. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest.

Sarah Heil, the couple’s daughter, told WBBM radio in Chicago earlier this week that her parents had been looking forward to their 16-day vacation.

“They raised four kids and sent them all to private school, elementary to college, so they never had any money,” Sarah Heil said. “So when they retired, they went traveling. And this was to be a big deal — a 16-day trip. They were really excited about it.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (12)
  1. heather says:

    Wow, it’s fine to not agree with someone’s beliefs. But it is seriously cruel to post such vile hatred to people in pain.

    1. heather says:

      Ok, good. It’s been deleted.

  2. kevin says:

    Get a lilfe Heather, be realistic, they are dead and gone, what can anyone do?? Pray to Zeus is about effective as praying to some “god”…….

    1. See BS says:

      It’s also called “Mourning”, that’s how people get together and make themselves feel like care about loved ones.

      Just like you worship your fake never existing godless Utopia.

      1. kevin says:

        I see we have yet another sheep blindly following silly myths and make believe dieties….how very quaint of you….I guess you just need a crutch and someone to blame for everything that goes wrong or right for you….certainly makes you out to be quite shallow…..here little sheep, why hold yourself responsible for anything and everything when it is so easy to throw it in “gods” lap….. silly moron!

        1. heather says:

          Seriously? Just because someone believes in God doesn’t mean they do not take responsibility for anything. We are quite aware that we mess up and need to take responsibility. Please don’t disrespect us for not believing the same as you. I have not disrespected you, please show the same courtesy.

        2. See BS says:

          The Biggest mass murderers in world history are athiests — that’s because they killed people who don’t follow them like sheep.

          1. kevin says:

            You are both pathetic, crying morons. God fearing idiots like yourselves have counted for more murders than any and every serial killer in history, combined. so nice try but you are merely showing your ignorance. and, heather, you dear feeble minded idiot, are lying, each and every one of you religious lunatics lay all and every responsibility for things on “god” you know, and I know, stop hiding and admit it. What is your famous scapegoat / crutch….oh yea….god will forgive me….throw another coin in the basket honey…pay for it! BAAAAA BAAAAA

            1. See BS says:

              Atheism is a religion of being a bummer.

            2. Loki says:

              I would wager Kevin lives a directionless life void of myth and therefore guidance.

    2. heather says:

      I have one, thank you. While we disagree about theology, that is not my point. There is no need to be so harsh to people that have one shred of hope left. There will be plenty of time for them to mourn if they haven’t survived, and they have a right to mourn how they wish. It’s sad that you feel the need to kick those who are already down.

  3. George says:

    I heard that the captain had some deal with one of his officers to get closer to the shore than normal, so he could get a photo of his parents at their house waving to them. If this is true the captain and those officers should rot in jail for life, I heard this on the radio with Dark Star on KFAN yesterday!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

More From WCCO | CBS Minnesota

Good Question
Best Of Minnesota

Watch & Listen LIVE