Feast Day: 28 April
Gianna Beretta Molla was born in Magenta, near Milan, in Italy on 4 October 1922 – the tenth of thirteen children. From an early age, she accepted the gift of faith and received an excellent Christian education. Her parents, Alberto and Maria, taught her that life was a wonderful gift from God. The example of her parents led her to rely on God and to become fully aware of the need and effectiveness of prayer.
She was five when she received her First Communion. It was an important moment in Gianna’s life. From that moment onwards, she frequently took Holy Communion, which was for her a support and source of light throughout her childhood and youth.
Those years were not easy for Gianna: she changed schools, had health problems, her family moved several times, and her parents died. All this did not shock or upset Gianna very much; her sensitivity and good qualities grew thanks to the support she received from her deep spiritual life.
An active young woman
Gianna was a good student both at high school and university and she became an active young woman who enjoyed music, art, skiing and mountain climbing. She was a faithful practicing Catholic, involved in both the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Catholic Action movement.
In 1949, Gianna earned a degree in medicine at the University of Pavia and afterwards opened a small medical clinic, and continued her studies with a specialization in paediatrics at the University of Milan.
During her professional experience, she gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor. For Gianna, being a doctor was not just a profession but a vocation.
Her family vocation
Gianna prayed and asked for prayers from others to help her to discern her life’s vocation, what God had intended for her. At first, she thought very seriously about going to Brazil to be a lay missionary to help her brother, Father Alberto, a Capuchin friar serving as a medical doctor. He had spent his whole life in Grajaú, Brazil, serving the poor.
Gianna’s spiritual director raised concerns for her health amid the extremely demanding missionary work conditions. He was able to convince her that this was not the right way. Later on, Gianna felt that God had chosen marriage for her and she followed this choice with her innate enthusiasm. Her wish was “to form a truly Christian family”.
On 8 December, Gianna met for the first time the love of her life, the engineer Pietro Molla and, on 24 September 1955, Gianna and Pietro got married in St Martin’s Basilica in Magenta.
Their first son was born the following year and the couple named him Pierluigi. Their daughter Maria Zita (Mariolina) was born in 1957 and Laura in 1959.
A woman of the twentieth century
Gianna was a happy young mother who knew how to, with simplicity, balance her duties as mother, wife and doctor and her passion for life.
She loved culture, fashion and beauty, she played piano, was a painter, enjoyed tennis, mountain climbing and skiing, she attended the Symphony theatre and opera in Milan, and she also loved to travel.
In her diary Gianna once wrote “love and sacrifice are closely linked like the sun and the light; we cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love”.
Her heroic decision
In September 1961, towards the end of the second month of pregnancy with her fourth child, Gianna had to make a heroic decision. Physicians diagnosed a serious fibroma – a benign tumour in the uterus – that required surgery.
The surgeon suggested that Gianna undergo an abortion in order to save her own life. Gianna knew that pregnancy would entail great risks to her life. However, she asked the surgeon to operate to remove fibroma in such a way as to save the life of the baby she was carrying.
She never stopped praying and trusting in God’s Providence. The baby’s life was saved. Gianna thanked God and spent the following seven months attending to her duties of mother and doctor with great commitment and strength.
A few days before the child was due she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child. She said: “If you must decide between me and the child do not hesitate choose the child, I insist on it, save the baby”.
On the morning on 21 April 1962 her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, was born by caesarean section at the hospital in Monza. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them on the morning on 28 April, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of: “Jesus I love you, Jesus I love you” Gianna died.
The sacrifice of her life
The young mother was only 39 years old and she died as a result of sacrificing her life so that her unborn child in the womb could have the maximum chance at life.
Gianna showed that faith is a personal decision which involves one’s whole life. Her husband, Pietro, described Gianna’s life as 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.
The cause for beatification and her first miracle
Already at her death the young mother was well known for her virtues. Many people attended her funeral Mass. People spoke freely of her kindness and charity and her fame did not cease when she was placed in the tomb of the little cemetery of Mesero. People continued to talk about her and speak about the way she lived an extraordinary virtuous life.
Several months after her death in December 1962, the civil provincial administration of Milan presented Gianna’s family with a gold medal in her memory. Talk of her holiness continued to spread and in 1972 Cardinal Giovanni Colombo of Milan, having received a favourable opinion of the Bishops Conference of Lombardy, promoted the cause for her beatification and requested the compilation of informative documents and records. This was the beginning of a long and extensive investigation that is undertaken in every cause for sainthood.
On 28 April 1980, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the newly appointed Archbishop of Milan, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, officially introduced the cause for beatification of the servant of God Gianna Beretta Molla.
The official miracle required for Gianna’s beatification took place in her brother Father Alberto’s Hospital in Brazil. Mrs Lucia Silva Cirilo was hospitalized in October 1977 due to an infection following a caesarean delivery with a stillborn child.
The physician’s diagnosis was worrisome; the patient needed to be moved to another hospital equipped for a very difficult operation. The doctors’ worries came to the attention of a nursing sister who prayed and asked others to pray to Gianna for this woman’s healing.
Against all expectations, the following day the physician observed that the patient had healed fully and completely. Not only was it no longer necessary for her to be moved with a long and difficult trip to another hospital, she was in fact able to go home perfectly healed.
The touching story of Gianna Beretta Molla spread quickly throughout the entire world. On 24 April 1994, during the International Year of the family, Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna Beretta Molla in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Pope John Paul said that her witness was a hymn to life.
The second miracle and the canonisation
Ten years after the beatification, Gianna’s second miracle took place again in Brazil: Elisabete Comparini from Franca Brazil, was found to be carrying a baby without amniotic fluid. She was told the chances of her baby’s survival was little to none. Elisabete prayed to Blessed Gianna and decided to carry the baby to term. In the end, mother and child survived and she was able to give birth to a healthy baby.
The designs of Providence wished that both miracles required for her beatification and canonisation would come from Brazil.
On 16 May 2004, Pope John Paul II canonized Gianna Beretta Molla, saying to the Church: “She is a model of virtue, holiness, motherhood, professionalism and devotion; a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love”.
What is unique about Gianna’s story is that at both her beatification ceremony in 1994 and her canonization ten years later in 2004, her husband Pietro and three of the four children (the third daughter died in childhood) were sitting in the front rows in St. Peter’s Square to witness an extraordinary moment in their family and in the life of their church and making this the first time a husband witnessed his wife’s canonisation.
Gianna Beretta Molla was the last Saint proclaimed by Pope John Paul II.
A lover of life
Gianna was truly a lover of life from its earliest moments of conception until natural death. She witnessed to the Gospel and everyday life as a young person, a bride, a mother and a doctor. As a young doctor she specialized in paediatrics but had a concern for all people whose lives were diminished in any way by suffering.
Gianna Molla continues to remind the Church and the world of the necessity of a consistent ethic of life from the earliest to the final moments of human life.
Following the Gospel example of Jesus, Gianna gave herself entirely generating a new life.
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla is the patron saint of mothers, physicians and unborn children.
Her life prayer
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. Amen.
St. Gianna Molla, pray for us!