St. Gianna Beretta Molla: Life Giving Love

Feast: April 28 Lifespan: 1922-1962 Patronage: Mothers, physicians, pre-born children

Gianna Beretta Molla was Italian born, and was the tenth of thirteen children. She proved to be a bright student throughout her early education, and was a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, where she volunteered to take care of the elderly and less fortunate. This charitable formation made it natural for her to pursue a career as a physician.

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

"Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light. We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love.” -St. Gianna Beretta Molla

At 27, Gianna received her degree in medicine and surgery, and then opened her own clinic. She specialized in pediatrics, but she accepted patients of all ages. Her practice was also a ministry, as she treated people with uncommon devotion and kindness. Many times her patients were too poor to pay for their medication, let alone food for their daily bread. In these instances, Gianna would help them out, paying for some food in addition to their medical needs. She truly believed the call of a physician was akin to missionary work. With this in mind, she made it a point to never separate her faith from her work. She often counseled women to choose life instead of abortion, and helped post-abortive women make their way back to God's grace. Gianna said:

"Our mission is not finished when medicines are no longer of use. We must bring the soul to God; our word has some authority.... Catholic doctors are so necessary!”

When she wasn't practicing medicine, Gianna liked to enjoy life. She loved the out- doors, and had hobbies in hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing. She also loved attending the opera and symphony, and had great taste in clothes.

Before Gianna knew it she was approaching 30. At this time she was praying for guidance in her vocation. She had long had a desire to go to the mission fields, especially since her brother was a medical-missionary priest in Brazil, and he would tell her stories of what life was like there. Still, her calling was unclear. In order to further seek God's will, Gianna went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. On the trip, she served as the doctor to many sick people going in hopes to be healed. It was to be a formative trip, as Gianna wrote to a friend of her experience there...

“I have been to Lourdes to ask our Lady what I shall do: to go to the missions or to marry."

Upon reaching home, she found her answer: Pietro.

Gianna had met a man named Pietro a few times in the doctor's office over the course of four years. Pietro was quite taken by this woman who was known for being an excel- lent physician, but who led an exemplary Christian life, working in the Catholic Action League and Vincentians, and on top of all that she was pretty cute to boot.

Pietro later described his first impression of Gianna as “clear and serious.” Soon, he would come to know her joie de vivre. Their love for each other blossomed into some- thing pure and enthusiastic. They were engaged in April 1955, and married in September. A little over a year later, Gianna and Pietro welcomed their first child, Pierluigi. Two other children followed over the next two years, Mariolina and Laura. The Molla family life was a joyfilled one, and Gianna was earnest in "forming a truly Christian family."

It was not long before their Christian conduct would be put to a test. Gianna discover- ed she was pregnant with their fourth child. All seemed fine until she started experiencing pain in her second month of pregnancy. It was discovered that she had a fibroid (a benign tumor) in her uterus. She was given the options of an abortion, hysterectomy, or surgery to remove the fibroid. To remove the fibroid was the safest option for the child, but was the riskiest option for her. Gianna willingly chose the operation that would put the child's best interest before her own.

The operation was successful in that it removed the tumor, but it lead to complications throughout the rest of her pregnancy. Nevertheless, Gianna spent the next months active and joyful as ever, going on with her life as a wife, mother, and doctor. The due date was fast approaching, and Gianna had a sense that the delivery would be dangerous. She told Pietro:

"If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child—I insist on it. Save the baby."

On Holy Saturday of 1962, Gianna went to the hospital for the delivery. After giving birth to her little girl, Gianna took a turn for the worse. Gianna went into septic shock, and experienced severe abdominal pain. This lasted for seven days. She constantly repeated, "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you." When nothing more could be done, she was taken back home, and died amongst her loved ones. She was just 39 years old. Everyone experienced deep grief at the death of such a wonderful and heroically virtuous woman. Soon word of Gianna's loving offering spread, and just 32 years later she was canonized in the presence of her 91 year old husband Pietro, and their children Laura, Pierluigi and Gianna. It was the first time in Church history that a husband witnessed his wife's canonization.

Pope John Paul II summed it up best, saying Gianna was:

“...a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.”

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