By Elizabeth Starr
For The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s Newman Catholic Student Center hosted a prayer service Feb. 4 in honor of Gerald Belz, 18, a UI student who died as a result of last week’s extreme cold weather. Family members, fellow students and others attended the prayer service.
Belz, a pre-medicine major in his second semester at the University of Iowa, was found unresponsive outside Halsey Hall on campus in the early morning hours of Jan. 30. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Local weather reports listed a temperature early that morning of around 22 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 50 degrees below zero. The University of Iowa had canceled classes from 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, to noon Thursday, Jan. 31, due to the frigid temperatures.
The evening prayer service was open to the University of Iowa and Iowa City communities. Newman Center staff members were available after the service to anyone wanting to talk or seek grief guidance. “We are trying to give the proper response to a tragedy,” Father Jeff Belger, the Newman Center’s director, said about the prayer service.
Fr. Belger received permission from the Belz family to hold a prayer service in order to reach out to students and to aid in the grieving process. Five members of his family attended, including his parents, Michael and Sherine, and his brother, Andrew, all of Cedar Rapids; two aunts and his girlfriend. Students, faculty and community members also attended, many of whom did not known Belz personally. Many people who were in attendance were floor mates of Belz from Burge Residence Hall, where he lived while studying at the University of Iowa.
Earlier in the day, his family celebrated his funeral Mass at St. Jude Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, where they are members. “He was a very kind and humble person,” a family member said after the prayer service.
Several people, even some who did not personally know Belz, spoke about him and offered comfort to his family. They talked about his kindness and strength and encouraged the family to have faith during this difficult time.
During the prayer service, Fr. Belger read from Scripture, a passage from Second Corinthians. “We are all part of one another,” he said. “If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it.”
The gathering prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer for Office of the Dead, which is dedicated to the souls of the dead. “For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.”
Gabrielle Greco, Liturgical Ministry Fellow at the Newman Center, led the prayer during the service. After the service she said that the end of life on earth is not the true end, but the beginning of life in heaven. Prayers prayed during the service had previously helped her through a family member’s death, and she wanted to share that same peace with the Belz family.
(Elizabeth Starr is a student at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communications. Her home parish is Our Lady of Lourdes in Bettendorf.)