GIANNA BERETTA MOLLA (1922-1962)
St. Gianna was born in Northern Italy and became a medical doctor with a special interest in children’s health as a paediatrician. After her marriage, she gave birth to four children. Following on the birth of her last child, she suffered from a serious illness and passed to her heavenly reward a week later.
Pope John Paull II beatified her in 1994 and canonized her in 2004 in the presence of her 91-year-old husband, her children and other family members. As a wife, a working mother and a medical doctor, she is an important modern witness to the Gospel of life and also to Christian marriage and family life.
Doing God’s Will
As a young doctor, St. Gianna struggled for quite some time to find out what the Lord wanted her to do with her life. At first, she believed He was calling her to become a lay missionary and go and work in Brazil, along with her brother who had already gone there as a missionary priest. She took seriously the importance of discerning her vocation in life, and prayed a lot about it and discussed it with her spiritual director. She writes, “Both our earthly and eternal happiness depends on following our vocation in life”. After a lot of prayer and discernment, she became convinced that she was called to the married state.
In making important decisions in life, people often forget about the Lord and asking for His guidance. St. Gianna gives wise teaching on this matter when she writes, “What is a vocation?” and she responds, “It is a gift from God. It is up to us to do all in our power to know God’s will. We must go along the way God wills it, not forcing the door; when God wills it, how God wills it.”
Marriage and Family
Her preparation for marriage was not all about the material side as so frequently happens. She was much more concerned about preparing herself spiritually, for the great sacrament she was about to receive. She was very grateful to the Lord for her future husband, Pietro. Looking forward to the big event in their young lives, she wrote to Pietro, “With God’s help and blessing, we will do our best to make our new family a little Cenacle (The room in which the Last Supper took place), where Jesus reigns over all our affections, desires and actions…We will become collaborators with God in His creation, and so we will be able to give Him children that will love Him and serve Him.”
She took seriously the responsibility of parents, not only for the material needs of their children, but especially for their spiritual welfare. She rejected corporal punishment and relied on the art of gentle persuasion, to form and guide children from an early age. She stressed the importance of praying with young children, teaching them about the faith and the love of God. To help them overcome the tendency to be selfish, thinking only of themselves, St. Gianna believed in teaching children about the meaning of gift. They should be taught, she said, “That everything is a gift from God and that it should be respected as a gift.”
“Save the Child”
The Saint was soon to offer her own life as a gift to God to save the life of her child. While pregnant with her fourth child, she developed a serious medical condition which confronted her with a very difficult choice. By continuing with the pregnancy, she was putting her own life at risk. She could have saved her own life by an operation, which would have had as an unfortunate side-effect the loss of her baby. She could have made this choice but she wasn’t prepared to do so. She was very definite about what she believed the Lord was asking of her. She said to her husband, “If you have to decide between me and the child, do not hesitate; I demand it, the child, save it.” After giving birth to a healthy baby girl, she became very seriously ill and died a week later. This child has followed in her mother’s footsteps by also becoming a medical doctor.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla both as a medical doctor and as a mother, is an outstanding witness to the love, respect and concern which is due to every human being, and especially to the totally innocent, helpless and dependent baby in the womb. In situations where peoples’ lives are seriously endangered because of some disaster, such as fire or shipwreck, the natural human instinct is to first ensure the safety of babies and small children, and afterwards that of adults. St. Gianna followed this noble instinct which is inherent in the culture of life. The womb should be the safest place on earth for the unborn, instead of the kind of war zone it has become through abortion. This is the culture of death.
St. Gianna Physician’s Guild
St. Gianna has become a popular saint, especially among members of the health profession, who are the ones with special responsibility for promoting the culture of life. This has led to the establishment of the St. Gianna Physician’s Guild to promote the pro-life apostolate among doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others involved in promoting people’s health. The members promote and defend Catholic teaching through retreats, pilgrimages, conferences etc. They can also deepen their devotion to the saint and their commitment to the cause of life, through a special programme called, “Enshrinement”.