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Saint Gianna: A Model For Mothers | Helen Hull Hitchcock | The Foreword from
Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor by Pietro Molla and Elio Guerriero
"A woman of exceptional love, an outstanding wife
and mother, she gave witness in her daily life to the demanding values
of the Gospel." In his homily on the occasion of her beatification, April
24, 1994, Pope John Paul II proposed Gianna Beretta Molla as a model for
all mothers: "By holding up this woman as an exemplar of Christian perfection,
we would like to extol all those high-spirited mothers of families who
give themselves completely to their family, who suffer in giving birth,
who are prepared for every labor and every kind of sacrifice, so that
the best they have can be given to others."
canonizing Gianna Beretta Molla this spring [of 2004], the Church officially recognized
the extraordinary sanctity of a woman who chose to live an ordinary life-as
a professional and, later, as a wife and mother. Though she had once considered
entering a religious order, instead she practiced medicine (receiving
her medical degree in 1949, and her specialty in pediatrics in 1952).
She devoted herself to caring for her patients, and her selflessness and
dedication as a physician endeared her to the people. But it was not only
her practice of medicine that influenced them. She regarded her profession
as a mission through which she could aid and nurture both bodies and souls.
The young doctor's devotion to her Catholic faith was well known in her
community, and especially her instruction of young Catholic girls in their
Gianna meditated long and prayerfully on God's will for her. "What is
a vocation?" she wrote: "It is a gift from God-it comes from God Himself!
Our concern, then, should be to know the will of God. We should enter
onto the path that God wills for us, not by 'forcing the door', but when
God wills and as God wills."  Gianna believed she was called to marriage
and * family life, but she waited patiently for God's will to be revealed.
Gianna Beretta did not marry until she was thirty-three years old-to an
engineer ten years her senior, Pietro Molla, whose sister had earlier
been a patient of the young Dr. Beretta. Letters Gianna wrote during their
year-long courtship reveal her deep commitment to this new vocation. The
couple married in September 1955. Several days before their wedding, Gianna
wrote to Pietro, reflecting on their vocation to marriage: "With God's
help and blessing, we will do all we can to make our new family a little
cenacle where Jesus will reign over all our affections, desires and actions....
We will be working with God in His creation; in this way we can give Him
children who will love Him and serve Him."
Gianna's faith and her communion with Christ were profound, and from this
grace she drew deeper understanding of the dedication and self-giving
love that is fundamental to Christian marriage and family life.
After her marriage and even after she had children Gianna continued her
medical practice, extending her gifts beyond her immediate family to the
children of others, Three children, a son and two daughters, were born
between 1956 and 1959, and Gianna had two miscarriages before conceiving
another baby in 1961 Pietro and Gianna referred to their children as their
In his own account of these years, Pietro Molla says that he did not object
to Gianna's continuing her medical practice, because she was so deeply
attached to her patients, though after she became pregnant with their
fourth child, Pietro and Gianna had agreed that she would stop working
outside the home after the baby was born.
Early in the pregnancy it was discovered that Gianna had a fibroma, a
benign tumor, on her uterine wall. Surgery that would involve aborting
the baby was suggested, but the Mollas instantly and firmly rejected this
idea, and chose surgery that would remove only the tumor. Because of her
medical knowledge, Gianna understood more fully than most the risks involved
in this delicate surgery-both to her and to her unborn child. She insisted
that the baby be protected at all costs.
The surgery successfully removed the fibroma, and the pregnancy continued,
apparently normally, and the family made plans for the future in joy and
hope. But all was not well, and a few days before the baby was born, Gianna
realized it would be a difficult-possibly life-threatening delivery. She
asked her husband to promise that if it were necessary to choose between
saving her and saving the baby, he should choose the baby. "I insist",
On Good Friday, Gianna entered the hospital. And a lovely, healthy baby
daughter, Gianna Emanuela, was born the next day, April 21, 1962. But
the mother had developed a fatal infection-septic peritonitis. (Modern
antibiotics most likely would have saved her.) The inflammation caused
immense suffering during her final week on earth. In the midst of her
terrible pain, Gianna called to her own mother, Maria, who had died in
1942-and she prayed. As she lay dying, she repeated, "Jesus, I love you",
over and over. Her agony ended on April 28at home.
She was thirty-nine. The tiny infant, Gianna Emanuela, was exactly one
The bereft Pietro was left to raise four very young children without their
mother: Pierluigi, the eldest, was not yet six; Mariolina, four; Laura,
nearly three; and of course the new baby. In this book are Pietro's own
reflections on the difficult years that followed, and how the example
of his wife's serene and joyous faith helped sustain him through his grief
at Gianna's death; when their little daughter, Mariolina, died only two
years later; and through all the ordinary difficulties of raising a family
alonewith the added extraordinary challenges of raising children
whose absent mother had already become a revered public figure.
Almost immediately upon her death a devotion to Gianna arose among those
whose lives she had so deeply touched, and who knew her heroic devotion
to her faith and her family.
Her "cause" was introduced formally in 1970. She was beatified April 24,
1994; and canonized on May 16, 2004forty-two years after her death.
That her husband, now ninety-one, and three children attended her canonization
ceremony is one of several historic "firsts" connected with her canonization.
(Pierluigi, an engineer, is married; Laura is a political scientist; Gianna
Emanuela is a physician who specializes in Alzheimer's disease.)
Gianna Beretta Molla is the first married laywoman to be declared a saint
(though there are many sainted widows). She is also the first canonized
woman physiciana professional woman who was also a "working mom"
four decades ago, when this was unusual.
Her witness of abiding faith in Christ, and her example of generous, loving
self-donationwherever and however she was called to serve the Lordprovide
particular inspiration for women of our time and in our culture, where
conflicting demands and confusing signals are a daily part of our lives.
There is another aspect of this new saint's life that is worth ponderingand
this book affords a glimpse of it. That is, the role of her familythe
example of her parents -in her formation as a committed, active young
Catholic. Her family was outstanding for its deep Christian faith, expressed
not only in worship, in private prayer and family devotions, but in generously
extending their gift of faith to others.
Her family's example of unselfish love set the direction of young Gianna's
life. It gave her the firm foundation upon which, through the grace of
God and her trusting acceptance of his will for her, she confidently built
her lifea life that would shelter, nurture, guide, and inspire countless
others. Gianna's plans for raising her own children in the faith was influenced
by her own experiences growing up. Her understanding of motherhood came
from her own mother. Even though her own children could not know her tender
motherly presence while they were growing up, she interceded for them.
At the very end of her life, as Gianna suffered mortal pain, she sought
her mother's prayers. As we-especially mothers of young familiesmay
now seek hers.
Saint Gianna, pray for us.
Helen Hull Hitchcock
Feast of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne | July 26, 2004
 Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman's Life (Boston: Pauline
Books, 2002,), pp. 71-72.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com article:
God and Woman | Rev. Louis Bouyer
Singing the Praises of Motherhood | Interview
with Marie Bellet
Was Pope John Paul II Anti-Woman? | Mary Beth Bonacci
Doctor, Convert, and Mystic: The Life and Work of Adrienne von Speyr
Do Boys Need Dads? | An Interview with Maggie Gallagher
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