St Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962)
Feast Day: 28th April
Patron Saint of Mothers, Physicians and Unborn Children
Wife, mother, doctor and a Saint!
The source of sanctity in Gianna’s life doesn’t lie on the realization of miraculous deeds but on the simple though significant and fundamental trust in Providence and total abandonment to the will of God throughout her life.
Saint John Paul II, during the homily for her canonization, said: “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: “Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women”.
Following the example of Christ, who “having loved his own… loved them to the end” (Jn 13: 1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfil themselves”.
Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (Milan) on 4th October 1922, the tenth of thirteen children. From an early age she experienced life as a marvellous gift from God, had a strong faith in Providence and was convinced of the necessity and effectiveness of prayer.
During her secondary and university studies she diligently dedicated herself to her education whilst applying her faith through generous apostolic service within Catholic Action, particularly working with young women. Testimonies recall how, within her apostolate, “she aimed for charity above all”. She was also a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society. In 1949 she earned her degree in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia and the following year she opened a medical clinic. In 1952 she specialized in Paediatrics at the University of Milan and there after gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor. She considered her medical work as a “mission”. She was also known for her profound joie de vivre and love of creation which she would express through skiing and mountaineering.
Inspired by the letters of her brother, Father Alberto, who was a missionary in Brazil, she dreamed of joining him. Through her prayers and those of others – especially the help and accompaniment of her spiritual father – she was persuaded against it and discerned marriage as her vocation instead. She embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself to forming a true Christian family. She married Pietro Molla on 24th September 1955, after only 5 months of engagement. The book “The journey of Our Love” gathers the letters exchanged between Gianna and Pietro during their courtship and marriage and these letters “stand as evidence of a family life developed with original spiritual intensity” (Cardinal Angelo Scola). In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi, in December 1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. Rather than juggling in a precarious equilibrium her roles, Gianna was able to harmonize the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life through a deep trust in Providence and a total abandonment to the will of God.
During her fourth pregnancy Gianna was touched by the mystery of pain and suffering. She had developed a uterine tumour which was removed surgically at the second month of pregnancy with no consequence to the baby she was carrying – Gianna had prayed for this and was thankful to the Lord. On 21st April Gianna gave birth to Gianna Emanuela. The child was healthy but Gianna’s condition worsened following the birth and, despite the efforts to save her life, Gianna died on 28th April 1962 amid unspeakable pain and repeated exclamations of “Jesus I love you, Jesus I love you”. She was 39 years old.
Husband, Pietro, recalls how a few days before the birth was due, Gianna was ready to give her life in the words: “If you have to choose between me and the child, do not hesitate, save the child – I demand it. Save him”. Gianna felt that the child she was carrying had the same right to life of Pierluigi, Mariolina and Laura and that she was the ‘means’, as it were, through which the child could enter the world. She totally entrusted the other children and their upbringing to Providence through the help of their relatives.
Gianna’s choice was inspired by her conscience: as a mother and a doctor and can only be understood in the light of her deep faith, of her firm conviction that the right to life is something sacred, of the heroism of maternal love and of total trust in Providence.
Holy Spirit, Source of every perfection, give us wisdom, intelligence and courage so that following the example of Saint Gianna and through her intercession, we may know how to place ourselves at the service of each person we meet in our personal, family and professional lives and thus grow in love and holiness.
The Journey of Our Love: the letters of Saint Gianna Beretta and Pietro Molla / Gianna Beretta and Pietro Molla; edited by Elio Guerriero