The Story of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

By Nora V. Clemente-Arnaldo

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla is an Italian mother and doctor. As she is a product of our generation, I find her sainthood very edifying especially in our times when abortion is rampant all over the world.

She was one of the six blessed who were elevated to sainthood on May 16, 2004 by the late Pope John Paul II. The other five were from religious orders.

It is interesting to note that of the six, Saint Gianna drew the most attention for she was a lay person, a typical modern lady who died only last April 28, 1962.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Saving the Baby

In these times when even the lives of innocent unborn babies are threatened, what Saint Gianna did is being held up high by the Church: this lady doctor gave up her life in order to save her unborn child.

Her ordeal started when she was two months pregnant with her fourth child. She began to complain about painful, irregular swelling and was diagnosed with malignant uterine fibroma.

The head physician of the hospital, Dr. Mario Vitali, told her that the pregnancy should be "interrupted" (therapeutic abortion). Such a pronouncement of the doctor elicited a Holy Spirit-inspired reply from Saint Gianna: "That's out of the question, doctor It's a sin to kill one's creature in the womb."

Gianna and Pietro, her husband were faced with three choices: 1) removing the tumor and uterus, terminating the pregnancy and all hope for future pregnancies; 2) removing the tumor and terminating the pregnancy but leaving open the possibility for future pregnancies, and 3) removing the tumor in such a way that would not interrupt the pregnancy but would put Gianna's life in grave danger. Saint Gianna chose the third option.

Pietro Molla said, "she did it through charity, maternal responsibility and great respect for the child in her womb." She managed to give birth to her child but experienced extreme suffering following the delivery. Subsequent complications brought her life to an end shortly afterwards.

From a Pious family

There are additional gems in the life of Saint Gianna. Born on October 4, 1922, she came from a middle-class family in Bergamo, Italy. The family produced four medical doctors and two engineers; two became priests, one a nun.

Their family had a lovely and exemplary life. Both parents were religious, went to mass everyday, and at night before the image of the Blessed Mother, they would all recite the Rosary. Saint Gianna was likewise a daily mass-goer and communicant. She was involved in volunteer work in their parish, especially in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Gianna chose to be a doctor because she believed she could be of great service to the community in that way. She used to say: “Priests, when they celebrate mass, handle the body of Christ in the bread and wine. We, doctors, handle the body of Christ in the bodies of the sick."

However, she realized that the Lord was calling her to family life. As fate would have it, she met Pietro Molla, an engineer from Mesero, Italy. Ten months later, on September 24, 1955, Pietro and Gianna tied the knot.

When asked if he knew his wife was a saint, Pietro gave this reply to Renzo Allegri of the Messenger of St. Anthony magazine:

To be honest, I never realized I was living with a saint. Her soul was delicate and reserved but I never understood the greatness of her faith. Outwardly she was a woman like any other. What set her apart was that inwardly, her religious life was grand and exalted and she always maintained a deep trust in divine providence.

A Model for Doctors

As a doctor, Saint Gianna was faithful in her mission. She never refused anyone, according to her husband. When called at night, she would leave immediately without grumbling or doubting if the emergency was real. Whenever her patient was in financial trouble, Saint Gianna write the prescription and also hand over money for the medicine. Once she was called three times in one night, and every time she left without complaining. In the peak of winter. she would not allow the weaker patients to go to her clinic; she would go out of her way to see them in their own homes.

"Jesus I Love You''

It was on Sept. 6, 1961 when Saint Gianna Beretta Molla submitted to the operation to remove her tumor. It was successful and upon regaining her strength she resumed her work and waited for the birth of her chid. Before her due date, she made it clear to her husband that in the event he was to choose between her and the child he must choose the baby.

Gianna Emmanuela was born April 21 (Ho1y Saturday) by caesarean section. The birth of the baby was almost immediately followed by excruciating pains for the mother. Doctors tried to avert the expected complications to no avail. Gianna was diagnosed with septic peritonitis.

Having her sister-doctor-nun with her during those seven days of agony was big grace from the Lord. Saint Gianna would kiss Sister Virginia's crucifix during those painful moments and would whisper to her, "take care of my little angels".

Sister Virginia says that she never heard her grumbling or complaining on the part of Saint Gianna. She would always call on Jesus. Medical reports reveal that she refused to take pain killers. Sister Virginia says, "It's because Gianna wanted to be conscious to maintain her connections with Jesus."

On the morning of April 28, 1962, at the age of 39, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla breathed her last, saying "Jesus, I love you. Jesus I love you." Gianna's baby survived. She is now a married woman, and also a doctor like her mother.

Miracles for the Canonization

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla was beatified on April 24, 1994 and canonized on May 16, 2004. Both miracles needed for the two processes took place in Brazil.

The first miracle happened in 1977 in Grajau, Brazil. Lucia Cirillo was pregnant with her fourth child but unfortunately, the baby died in her womb. An urgent operation was needed for the mother but the nearest hospital was 700 kilometers away. A missionary sister went to see Lucia, placed a relic of St. Gianna under her pillow and encouraged her to pray. Lucia felt something like a powerful discharge of energy pervading her body. The pain eased and she fell asleep. When she woke up, she was completely healed and doctors could give no explanation.

The second miracle took place in Franca, near Sao Paolo, Brazil. A devout Catholic couple, Elizabetha and Cesar Arcalino, had their fourth child. The fetus was four months inside the mother's womb when the amniotic sac broke prematurely causing loss of fluid. Doctors wanted therapeutic abortion to save the mother. The couple, knowing the story of blessed Gianna, did not submit to therapeutic abortion. They prayed to Gianna. Five months after, in that circumstance, a baby girl was born to everyone's surprise and was named Gianna Marie. The gynecologist was so impressed by this miracle that she converted to the Faith.

The late beloved Pope John Paul II proposed Saint Gianna Beretta Molla as a model for all mothers. And I hasten to add, for all doctors too.

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