Saint of the Issue: Gianna Beretta Molla

by Margo Borders


St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian saint canonized by St. Pope John Paul II in 2004, is known as a saint of the pro-life movement, and is the patron saint of mothers, physicians, and unborn children.


Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta, Italy in October 1922. She had eight surviving siblings and experienced a simple and faithful upbringing. At age 20, Gianna enrolled in medical school in Pavia, Italy. She continued her fervent devotion to the faith, attending daily Mass, visiting the Blessed Sacrament in adoration, and praying the rosary. She was involved in service through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Sisters of Saint Vincent, and even demonstrated her leadership by speaking at a Catholic Action conference in 1946 about the vocation to marriage.


Gianna received her degree in medicine in 1949. Although she wanted to go to Brazil to serve as a missionary, she had poor health, and instead opened a medical clinic in Mesero. She later became a pediatric specialist and was devoted to living an ethical life. She often helped to persuade women not to have an abortion as well as provide care to women who had already had one. She served patients who could not pay, and often helped their families pay for food and medication.


In 1954, Gianna met Pietro Molla, a fellow member of Catholic Action, and the two were married a year later, in April of 1955. They lived in the small town of Ponte Nuovo, where Gianna counseled mothers at a home for mothers and children, and volunteered her medical skills to the community. Within the next three years, she gave birth to three children, one boy and two girls.


Gianna suffered two miscarriages before conceiving her fourth child. She started experiencing problems in her pregnancy, and tests confirmed that she had a large fibroid tumor in her uterus. The doctors gave her the option of abortion, which would save the child, or to perform the risky operation of removing the tumor to save the child. Gianna respected the sanctity of the life inside of her so much that she said yes to life and opted to have the operation.


Gianna had a successful surgery in September of 1961. However, there was still a chance that the baby could be lost during the length of the pregnancy. When preparing to give birth, she again emphasized that the baby’s life must be saved before her own. On April 20, 1962, her baby girl, Gianna Emanuela, was successfully delivered by Caesarean section. While the baby was healthy, Gianna developed a severe infection, called septic peritonitis, culminating in a high fever and severe abdominal pain. Both her sister Virginia and husband Pietro were at her side. She refused medicine to dull the pain because she wished to be lucid while carrying her Cross. Seven days later, Gianna died at 39 years old.


Based on two miracles involving miraculous survivals of children in utero and their mothers, Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna in April of 1994 and canonized her on May 16, 2004. The feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla is April 28, the day of her death. Her daughter, Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, survives her as a geriatrician in Milan.

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