A Saint for the Family in Our Times

A Saint for the Family in Our Times

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla died in 1962, at the age of 39. I became acquainted with her saintliness fifteen years later in 1977, a year before the Holy See was petitioned to open the cause for her canonization. A small group of religious sisters visited the Catholic school where I was a student, and told the story of an Italian woman who was a mother, a physician and a model for the pro-life mission, having chosen to refuse a medically indicated abortion, and died shortly after her fourth child’s birth. Fifteen years later, that story would return to my mind over and over, but I could not recall the name of the saintly woman. With the advent of the internet, I began to search for more information about her, using the little details I knew to try to find her name. I was driven, but unsuccessful. In October, 1999 the relics of St. Therese were brought to Philadelphia, and I attended the special occasion. In the throngs of pilgrims, a man thrust a holy card into my hand. Upon glancing at the picture and the name of then Blessed Gianna, I knew at once that this was the woman whose identity I had been attempting to discover! Such a serendipitous encounter! 

From then on, I studied the life of this remarkable woman. I attended events centering on her cause for canonization, read what little writings were available in English, and promoted her cause to all I knew. Facing a frightening medical emergency with one of my own children, we fervently asked her intercession and my daughter received a miraculous healing of a congenital defect that was causing her illness. 

Here is a saint who lived during our era, who lived a life wholly dedicated to God and neighbor, and who died because she offered her own life to preserve the life of her child. She is not a martyr for the Faith, and she was not canonized because of her death, but because of her holy life. St. Gianna shows us that ordinary lay persons living ordinary lives can live them in a way that brings glory to God, and brings their souls to Heaven. 

St. Gianna was one of thirteen children of deeply faithful, pious parents. As a youth she participated in Catholic Action, and took on a leadership role, always encouraging others to holiness. Gianna became a medical doctor and specialized in pediatrics, but saw patients of all 

ages. Her kindness and charity were remarkable; she was known to give more than medical care to her patients in need. Married to Pietro Molla near her thirty third birthday, Gianna went on to have four children. Her life with her family was full of joy and gentleness. Her husband described her as an ordinary, but elegant, woman who loved life and her family, and who placed 
utmost trust in Divine Providence. 

In her fourth pregnancy, she was faced with a medical challenge: a uterine tumor, and made the choice most dangerous to herself but protective of her unborn child. Twice she insisted the baby’s life be saved even at her own risk. She developed sepsis shortly after the birth, and refused pain medication, offering all to Jesus. Telling her husband that she had been “to the other side,” she explained that she was sent back for a time because “it is not right to come to the Lord without enough suffering.” After a week of intense suffering and futile medical care, Pietro brought Gianna home to die.  

It is difficult to encapsulate the beauty of St. Gianna’s soul in these few words. Her writings were uncovered, even to her husband for the first time, during the period of investigation of her life of virtue, and it was discovered that her whole life was “an uninterrupted act of Christian witness, of grace.” (Pietro Molla) Her husband and surviving children (one daughter died only two years after her mother) attended her beatification and her canonization. St. Gianna died on April 28, 1962 and her feast is celebrated on that day. St. Gianna has been named, along with St. John Paul II, as patron of the upcoming World Meeting of Families. 

Nancy Arey

March 26, 2015
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