Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman's Life

by Giuliana PelucchiPauline Books and Media, 2002 144 pages, $14.95 To order: (800) 836-9723 or http://www.Pauline.org

The sun-drenched vistas and snowcapped mountains of Northern Italy appear in the 40 pages of photos that illustrate this brief but vivid biography. A woman of the mid-20th century, Gianna Beretta was born in 1922 and died in 1962. Her inspiring life is recalled here in interviews with her relatives, excerpts from her diaries and correspondence, and pages from the Molla family album.

We see Gianna as a girl in a formal portrait with her devout parents and many brothers and sisters, among whom there would be two priests, a nun and two physicians. We see her as a young doctor, in charge of gaggles of children at a summer camp—and smiling. We see her skiing with her fiancé, the business manager Pietro Molla, then at their wedding and, finally, in many charming, candid shots with her first three babies, her “treasures.”

Love beams from these photographs. Love and a special serenity that will be recognized by those who have encountered it before as sanctity.

Gianna put off marriage for many reasons. She was in medical school during World War II. She wondered whether she should apply her skills as a doctor in the missions like her older brother and sister. At age 33 she discovered, though, that her vocation was to be a wife and mother. The newlyweds wasted no time and, by July 1959, they were the proud parents of a son and two daughters. (This biography, oddly, is silent about Gianna's two subsequent miscarriages.)

Pietro describes the dilemma his wife faced during her sixth pregnancy: “She wasn't some mystical type. ... Gianna was a woman who could take pleasure in the small and great joys God grants us even in this world. Nevertheless, she did not hesitate when she learned of the large tumor that threatened the normal development of her pregnancy. Her first reaction was to ask the doctors to save the child in her womb. ... Gianna chose the [surgical] option [that was] the riskiest for herself. ... Gianna trusted in God.” Gianna Molla was able to hold her fourth live baby in her arms, but she herself died a painful death shortly afterward. She had laid down her life for her little one.

Giuliana Pelucchi has written and compiled an intimate portrait of an extraordinary woman. Especially moving are excerpts from the love letters of Gianna and Pietro, and tributes written by their children, who are now adults. Gianna Emanuela, their youngest daughter, describes her mother's heroic witness: “Every moment of her entire existence was a real testimony of Christian love and faith, which she lived with joy in her everyday life. ... She always trusted in divine providence, and she crowned her exemplary life in the name of a love without measure.” Blessed Gianna was beatified in 1994, during the Year of the Family.

Michael J. Miller translated Married Saints and Blesseds for Ignatius Press.