If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a mom, it’s that it’s not always easy. And that while we relish the tender moments, sometimes it involves making tough choices.
Enter Saint Gianna Beretta Molla—pediatrician, wife, mother, saint.
A Holy—and Normal—Life
Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (near Milan) in Italy, on October 4, 1922, the 10th of 13 children born to Alberto and Maria Beretta. Her parents instilled in their children a deep faith. In fact, two of Gianna’s brothers became priests and one of her sisters became a nun. And while Gianna was a very pious child and considered a religious vocation, her holiness would be found as a working mom.
Gianna found her life’s calling in medicine. She earned degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of Pavia in 1949, and opened a medical clinic in Mesero a year later.
In 1955, Gianna married Peter Molla. They subsequently had three children, Pierluigi, Maria Zita and Laura.
During her pregnancy with her fourth child, however, Gianna’s doctors discovered she had a tumor in her uterus. They encouraged her to terminate the pregnancy and undergo a complete hysterectomy. Gianna refused, but did allow surgery to remove the growth—fully aware of the danger that continuing the pregnancy presented.
Prior to the surgery, Gianna told a priest, “I have entrusted myself to the Lord in faith and hope, against the terrible advice of medical science, ‘Either mother or child.’ I trust in God, yes, but now I must fulfill my duty as a mother. I renew the offer of my life to the Lord. I am ready for everything, provided the life of my child is saved.”
In the final weeks of her pregnancy, she reiterated that if a decision had to be made between her and her child’s life, they should save the child. On April 21, Gianna gave birth to her fourth child—daughter Gianna Emanuela. Seven days later the mother died of complications from the birth.
A Real-life Saint
One of the stumbling blocks I have often had with many saints is that they seem so distant. Their lives and circumstances could not be any further from my own. But that’s not the case with Saint Gianna.
In fact, as I look at photos of Gianna with her children, I am reminded of the personal pictures that crowd my home and office. I look at the snapshots of her holding one of her children, their faces pressed close together, and I see myself and my children.
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla provides us moms with a great example of how sometimes the path to holiness lies in performing life’s ordinary tasks and facing its challenges in an extraordinary way. In short, she gives us hope that even saints can smell like spit-up, have to referee sibling squabbles and try to juggle home life and work. And that sometimes through our own sacrifices, we provide the greatest opportunities for our children. Case in point—her daughter Gianna Emanuela is now a physician herself.
Yes, thanks to Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, I have someone I can pray to…mom to mom.
‘Messenger of Divine Love’
“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.”
—homily from the Mass of canonization