St. Gianna Beretta Molla (Oct. 4, 1922-April 28, 1962), an Italian pediatrician, is one of the Church’s lay saints. When suffering from a life-threatening disease while pregnant, she rejected the possibility of having an abortion to save her own life and gave her own to save that of her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela.
Her heroic example, both in life and death, led her to become a patron saint of the unborn, and she now has a growing devoted following worldwide — reports of miracles and graces granted through her intercession continue to this day. Molla was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004.
Many American Catholics met Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla when she visited the United States over the summer. A geriatrician from Milan, she gave a series of talks about her canonized mother and brought with her a photo and relic (a piece of cloth) that belonged to her. She gave this email interview Aug. 28.
Your brother Pierluigi once said the great lesson to be learned from your mother’s life is how, in everyday life, we can all become saints. What, to you, can we best learn from St. Gianna and her life?
As the dearest Blessed Pope John Paul II said during the homily of my mother’s canonization:
"The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to devote their lives totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves." He also defined my mother’s heroic witness as "a real song to life."
It is just like this! All my mother’s life has been a hymn to life, to joy, to God’s love, to Our Lady, to her family, to her very near, to her beloved husband, my daddy, her beloved children and her dear patients.
My beloved dad, the most worthy spouse of my beloved saint mother, in a concise but affectionate biography of my mother (he wrote it in April 1971 and dedicated it to my brother Pierluigi, my sister Laura and me), testified: "Your mother’s life has been a perpetual act and action of faith and charity; it has been an incessant search, in each decision and in each deed, for God’s will, with meditation and prayer, the holy Mass and the Eucharist. It is a continuous accomplishment of the Gospel precepts and advises, even of those which are calling you at the top of your duty, to the apostolate and to love, always, even when the sacrifice required is that of your own life."
Your mother’s sacrifice of her life so that you could live goes to the very heart of the Christian faith. What has it been like living with the fact that your mother is a saint on account of her sacrifice? How much does your mother’s powerful example permeate everything you do and help you to live a life of Christian witness?
My mother was proclaimed "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, and a saint on May 16, 2004. He described her firstly as a "family mother" in the way she lived, before he went into how she died. She died in the same exemplary way she had lived. She, who really loved life very much, crowned her exemplary life with the sacrifice of giving her life so that I would be born.
For Mum, I had the same right to life as my brother Pierluigi and my sisters Mariolina and Laura. At that very moment, she represented to me an instrument of Providence in bringing forth life. As to my brother and sisters’ upbringing, she relied on Providence through Dad and other relatives.
Dad used to tell me Mom’s choice had been dictated to her by her conscience, as a mother and a doctor, and that it can be understood only in the light of her great faith, her strong belief in the sacred right to life, in the heroism of a mother’s love, and with full reliance on Providence.
I have to thank not only God and my saint mother for the gift of life — which is really all, is really the most important, the greatest, the most precious and the most sacred gift we always ought to honor, respect and defend — but my daddy, too, because he didn’t object to my mum’s decision, but rather respected her choice.
Daddy knew very well my mother’s generosity, her spirit of self-sacrifice, her circumspection and the strength of her choices and decisions. As a conscientious man, he felt he ought to respect them, even if they could have extreme and painful consequences for him and us, the children.
I think God blessed me with two saint parents, my mom and my dad. Our Lord called him on April 3 last year, on Holy Saturday. He was almost 98. He always fulfilled and accepted God’s will.
Being a geriatrician myself, I had the grace and privilege to assist him during the last seven years and three months of his long life. I was always at home with him. I felt like I was an instrument in God’s hands, assisting him as a physician. He had a very lucid mind till the very last day of his life. He serenely passed away, as he had always serenely lived.
The mere thought of him, now in paradise, happily reunited with his beloved bride, my saint mommy Gianna, with my sister Mariolina, who died at only 6, two years after my mother’s death, relieves me of my deep sorrow for his absence. I miss his huge affection very much.
The lives of my mom and my dad are powerful examples for me, and their lives’ examples permeate everything I do very much and help me to live a life of Christian witness. They are, together with Mariolina, my "guardian angels," who always protect me and help me. I pray to God that he helps me to be worthy of my saintly parents and to be reunited with them one day, when he calls me, as well.
You must often get asked to pray to your mother to intercede for others. How often have you seen these prayers answered, and can you share any anecdotes?
A lot of people, from different parts of the world, ask me to pray for my saintly mother to intercede for them, according to their personal intentions, and I am so happy to help them with my prayers to my mom.
I usually tell these people that if their wishes and prayer requests are in accordance with God’s will, my mother certainly helps them and listens to their and my prayers. My beloved dad used to say to me: "How many sufferings there are in the world!"
He was absolutely right; it’s really like this! I am very happy to share my mother with persons who turn to her, pray to her, and have confidence in her about any problem, difficulty, choice or wish. I don’t really know how to thank God for the very singular and remarkable gift of my mother. Each time I come to know about graces received by the intercession of my mother, which increase every day, I feel very moved and very touched, especially when someone asks me to pray to her according to a particular intention and she immediately listens to my prayers.
So, I realize how her intercession is powerful. I feel like I am an instrument in God’s hands, helping in expressing his greatness and power.
I have imprinted in my mind and in my heart the great love and devotion to my mother of the many persons I had the great joy of meeting during my recent visit in the United States. I have etched in my memory their great joy, emotion and tears of joy when meeting me. Even if I was very tired, their joy gave me the strength to go on to greet each of them.
Many persons told me, with tears in their eyes, that they had received physical or spiritual graces through the intercession of my mother, that they feel my mom is very close to them, that she helps them; she listens to their prayers and supplications. What a joy it is for me to know all these testimonies to life. I thank God and my mother with all my heart for all these favors.
And how many babies I met called Gianna — because they were born thanks to the intercession of my mom! And also a lot of girls who took the name of St. Gianna for their confirmation. I hadn’t really imagined such great devotion.
A lot of people also asked me to pray to my mother for their intentions. I keep them and all the persons I met during my visit in the United States in my prayers and in my heart.
On your recent visit to the United States, you said you brought your mother’s assistance with you. What was the key message you wished to convey to Catholics there?
I don’t remember what I said exactly. I think I intended simply to say that my mother always helps me, that I feel she is very close to me in every moment.
What message do you think your mother would give today to the pro-life movement in the United States and elsewhere?
At the conclusion of the biographical booklet that my dad wrote about my mom, that was dedicated to my brother, my sister and me when we were still very young, he testified to these beautiful and very significant words about my mother’s "beliefs and basic ideas on life." I think we can take these words as my mother’s life message for each of us:
"Your mother’s beliefs and basic ideas on life were, with no doubts, embraced with complete coherence and clarity, entirely lived as the result of her profound Christian formation, reflecting her genuine aspiration to live the Gospel, the fruit of her profound vocational and moral training. They can be summarized as follows:
"Life is, in itself, the first and irreplaceable gift of God. It is first and irreplaceable because it is a necessary premise for any other wonderful gift of God.
"The human creature is sacred because of God’s presence; Jesus is there, and each one of our deeds is done for God, for Jesus. The divine Last Judgment at the end of our earthly days will be based on these deeds.
"The human being is already fully a human being from his or her conception and, from conception, has the full and inalienable right to life, and the mother has the duty that this inalienable right to life can come true."
My mother’s theological and moral virtues, so strong during her entire life — a life of faith and grace, of prayer and sacraments, of Christian witness and apostolate — all come together and can be summarized in her charity and her love.
With her great life, joy and desire to live, she was ready to give her same life for her offspring. Just as in Jesus’ teaching: "There is no greater love than that which gives his life for a loved one." And as Jesus did: He gave his life for us.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.