SAINT GIANNA BERETTA MOLLA
PRO-LIFE SAINT, DOCTOR AND MOTHER
By: Joseph W. Cunningham, Esquire
Knight of the Immaculata
Schubert, Bellwoar, Cahill & Quinn
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, protectress of mothers and families, died in 1962 as a martyr of maternal love . In September of 1961, at the age of 39, Saint Gianna was pregnant with her fourth child when physicians diagnosed a large ovarian cyst which required surgery. The surgeon suggested that Gianna undergo an abortion in order to save her own life. Gianna's decision was prompt and decisive: "I shall accept whatever they will do to me provided they save the child." She underwent the surgery but her fate was sealed. The following year, on Good Friday, Gianna was admitted to Monza Maternity Hospital. Her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, was born the next day but Saint Gianna expired seven days later, on April 28, 1962.
According to her biography, For the Love of Life. Gianna Beretta Molla. Doctor and Mother, by Fernando da Riese Pio X, the life of Saint Gianna can be divided into three parts: her life as a young lady and a leader of a group known as "Catholic Action"; her life as a physician, beginning as a surgeon, obstetrician and finally, as pediatrician; and her life as wife and mother.
Gianna Beretta was born on October 4, 1922, the tenth of 13 children born to Alberto and Maria Beretta. Five children died young but the rest had outstanding vocations including two priests, a nun/physician, two physicians (including Gianna), an engineer and a pharmacist.
a. Catholic Action
As member and leader of Catholic Action, a group for young people, Gianna organized retreats, held courses on spiritual exercises and participated in helping the poor and needy of her town. Her motives were twofold: to educate the youth to love God and neighbor and to help the suffering members of the mystical body of Christ. The first duty of a member of Catholic Action was to pray for those who do not love Jesus. In her letters, Gianna encouraged the members to "be living witnesses of the greatness and beauty of Christianity." She exhorted them not to be afraid to defend God, the Church, the Pope and his priests. She extolled the virtues of Saint Maria Goretti who tells us that "life is beautiful when it is dedicated to great ideals and that to attain them, we must know how to die."
b. Life as Doctor
In her life as physician, Gianna obtained a degree in Medicine and Surgery in 1949. She elected to specialize in pediatrics and obtained an additional degree in 1952. She collaborated with her brother, Dr. Ferdinando Beretta in a family practice for the next 10 years, exercising her medical skills for the glory of God and to help mankind. Her viewpoint on abortion was direct and unambiguous: "The doctor should not meddle. The right of the child to live is equal to the right of the mother's life. The doctor cannot decide; it is a sin to kill in the womb."
c. Life as Wife and Mother
In her life as wife and mother, Gianna entrusted her future to our Blessed Mother. In 1954, a Marian year, Gianna went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France as a doctor accompanying a train of sick people. After returning from Lourdes she confided to a friend: ''I have been to Lourdes to ask Our Lady what I shall do: to go to the missions or to marry. I reached home...and Pietro came in!" (her future husband).
After their marriage in 1955, three children were born: Pierluigi (1956), Maria Zita (1957), and Laura (1959). After the baptism, each child was entrusted to the special protection of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Gianna's maxim was as follows: "I have always been taught that the secret of happiness is living moment by moment and to thank God for everything that in His goodness He sends us, day after day." In reply to a question of why she decided to marry, Gianna stated: "The ways of the Lord are all beautiful, provided the end is the same: to save our soul and succeed in taking many others to Heaven to give glory to God."
Her married life involved much separation from her husband who was obliged to travel to distant countries for his employment. Still, Gianna accepted this sacrifice, even employing the language of Our Lady: "Always FIAT!"
In her last pregnancy, Gianna invoked Our Lady of Desperate Cases to whom she had prayed during medical school. The title was not intended for those in despair but for those seeking special graces.
When Gianna was admitted to the Hospital on Good Friday, April 20, 1962, the medical examination revealed a large, healthy baby and a life-threatening septic peritonitis. After the birth of Gianna Emanuela, Saint Gianna suffered tremendously in body and in spirit. Her acute abdominal pain was surpassed only by her suffering at leaving her four children orphaned. She refused the pain medication as she did not feel it was just to appear before the Lord without much suffering.
On April 26th and 27th, Gianna could not receive Holy Communion because she could not swallow. Gianna begged that the Sacred Host at least be placed on her lips. She repeated continuously, "Jesus, I love You." Gianna was returned by ambulance to her home where she died on Saturday, April 28, 1962 at 8:00 a.m..
At the funeral held at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Dr. Jolanda Botti, a pediatrician, stated: "I believe that the memory of Gianna will be a seed that will bear fruit. We cannot think that God has taken away from this world such a noble and dear lady without a very great motive which we cannot understand now."
Pietro Molla, the husband of Saint Gianna, described her life to their children: "The life of Mamma was an act and a perennial action of faith and charity; it was a non-stop search for the will of God for every decision and for every work, with prayer and meditation, Holy Mass and the Eucharist."
On July 6, 1991, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, issued the Decree of Heroicity of Virtue of the Servant of God. On December 21, 1992 the Decree of the Miracle was proclaimed. Finally, on April 24, 1994, Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna Beretta Molla at St. Peter's Square in Rome. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 2004.
For more information see http://www.saintgianna.org/.
For a Holy Card of Saint Gianna, write to: "Saint Gianna", P.O. Box 2946, Warminster, PA 18974.
Protectress of mothers and
pray for us!
St. Gianna's Life: A Celebration of Motherhood by Joseph W. Cunningham
Love Leads to Life by Fr. Frank Pavone
St Gianna (Beretta) Molla by Patrick O'Donnell