This post is part of a series on the life of saints. If you are interested in more information about what a saint is, check out this introductory post. Basically, saints are holy men and women whose lives demonstrate the glory of God and are now in heaven in his presence.
Today’s new friend is St. Gianna Molla. A 20th century saint known for her life as a wife, mother of four, and doctor.
Gianna Francesca Boretta was born in 1922 in Magenta (Milan), Italy to a strong and faithful family. She grew up playing with her many siblings, praying as a family, and excelling as a student. She enjoyed art, music, fashion, the outdoors, and skiing. In 1942, Gianna began her study of medicine and surgery at University of Pavia, and graduated with a medical degree focusing on pediatrics in 1952 from University of Milan.
As a physician, St. Gianna saw her occupation as a mission, providing excellent care for children and mothers. She worked closely with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Action and cared deeply for the homeless and elderly in her community. She discussed joining her brother in Brazil to practice medicine on the mission field, but in her discernment, she chose a vocational call towards family life, which kept her stateside.
Gianna was also committed to prayer and according to one account, “Through her prayers and those of others, she reflected upon her vocation, which she also considered a gift from God. Having chosen the vocation of marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself ‘to forming a truly Christian family’.”
A few years after opening her practice in Magenta, Gianna met Pietro Molla, an engineer who worked in her office. Five months after meeting they were engaged and five months after their engagement in September 1955 their family and friends gathered to celebrate the couple’s sacrament of marriage in St. Martin’s Basilica.
Gianna and Pietro had their first child, Pierluigi, in 1956, followed by the second, Maria Zita, in 1957, and the third, Laura, born in 1959. After her first three children were born, Gianna suffered from two miscarriages. Then in 1961, Gianna and her family joyfully embraced the news she was once again expecting.
A few months into the pregnancy, physicians found that Gianna developed fibroma, a benign tumor, on her uterus. After examination, Gianna refused the options which would have quickly solved her complications, but ended the life of her child, namely an abortion or a hysterectomy. Against the advice of the doctors, Gianna agreed to remove only the fibroma. Choosing the option that gave give both her child and herself the chance to live, and willing to face any possible complications.
After the removal of the fibroma, Gianna continued to face complications in her pregnancy, as the physicians warned was a possibility of bringing her child to full term. In the last few weeks of her pregnancy, she made her wishes known, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save him”.
Gianna went to the hospital on Good Friday of 1962, and there her youngest child, Gianna Emanuela, was bon via Caesarean section. However, after the birth, Gianna continued to have severe pain. Unfortunately, 7 days after giving birth, Gianna died at the age of 39 in her family home, of septic peritonitis, the inflammation of abdomen tissue, which can spread to the blood and cause organ failure. Her reported last words were, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.”
Her journey toward sainthood models the heroic virtue of Christ and his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Her story of choosing truth and life models for us how to walk through true tragedy with the joy of Christ.
On May 16, 2004, Gianna Molla was the last person to be canonized by St. John Paul II. She is the only saint whose spouse and children were present at the canonization ceremony.
The Saint in Art:
This modern-day saint is typically depicted with a young child in her arms and in 20th century clothes. She is also often wearing her doctor’s coat, in nature, and/or gazing towards heaven. What I love about St. Gianna’s art is how it depicts the interaction of her vocational calls as doctor, wife, mother, and devoted servant of God.
Patron Saint Of
Mothers, physicians, preborn children, and work outside the home mothers.
- “Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.” – St. Gianna, in a letter to her future husband shortly before their wedding in 1955
- “One cannot love without suffering or suffer without loving.” – St. Gianna Molla
- “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” – St. Gianna Molla
- In Pietro’s brief biography of his spouse, written in 1971, he wrote to his children, “Your mother’s life has been a perpetual act and action of faith and charity; it has been an incessant search, in each decision and in each deed, for God’s will, with meditation and prayer, the holy Mass and the Eucharist. It is a continuous accomplishment of the Gospel precepts and advises, even of those which are calling you at the top of your duty, to the apostolate and to love, always, even when the sacrifice required is that of your own life.
- In his homily at her canonization Mass, Pope John Paul II, “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love…Following the example of Christ, who ‘having loved his own…loved them to the end’ [John 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 fulfill themselves.”
- Pietro ended the biography he wrote of his saintly wife by offering St. Gianna’s “beliefs and basic ideas on life.”
- “Life is, in itself, the first and irreplaceable gift of God. It is first and irreplaceable because it is a necessary premise for any other wonderful gift of God.
- “The human creature is sacred because of God’s presence; Jesus is there, and each one of our deeds is done for God, for Jesus. The divine Last Judgment at the end of our earthly days will be based on these deeds.
- “The human being is already fully a human being from his or her conception and, from conception, has the full and inalienable right to life, and the mother has the duty that this inalienable right to life can come true.”
Ways to Celebrate:
Feast Day: April 28
Italian Flag-Shaped Caprese Salad
St. Gianna Lily cupcakes
Enjoy a glass of Italian Wine, and toast to a life of devotion and love in vocation. Salte.
1.) Send flowers to your mama. Thank her for the sacrifices she made to be your mom and the love and care she invested in your life.
2.) Hold a baby! Whether it is your own or a friends, cherish the gift of new life. If possible, babysit or bring a meal to a family near you.
3.) Support your local pregnancy help center. Give them a call and ask how you can volunteer or pray for their work.
4.) One of St. Gianna’s favorite pass times was to enjoy nature in the Mountains. As our environment is in Spring Bloom, notice the evidence of new life with a walk.
Prayer of St. Gianna Molla (from the Society of St. Gianna Beretta Molla)
Jesus, I promise You to submit myself to all that You permit to befall me,
make me only know Your will.
My most sweet Jesus, infinitely merciful God, most tender Father of souls,
and in a particular way of the most weak, most miserable, most infirm
which You carry with special tenderness between Your divine arms,
I come to You to ask You, through the love and merits of Your Sacred Heart,
the grace to comprehend and to do always Your holy will,
the grace to confide in You,
the grace to rest securely through time and eternity in Your loving divine arms.
Join me in celebrating one of the Church’s lay saints, St. Gianna, with her feast day April 28th. Hopefully you have gained a new friend in heaven. I know I have.
To see more check out some of my earlier posts in this series:
And to end this post, a wonderful video about St. Gianna Molla