St. Gianna, Still Promoting Life

St. Gianna is a patron saint for mothers, physicians and unborn children.

(photo: Register Files)

The Italian pediatrician who gave up her life for her unborn child in 1962 is inspiring crucial new pro-life efforts across the country. 

The name of St. Gianna is now attached to several growing pro-life fertility centers, as well as annual diocesan special Masses for unborn children around the country.

For many Catholic, Christian and pro-life women, finding reproductive health care in line with their beliefs has been limited. For others, they've been unaware of the negatives of contraception including when used for a medical problem, IVF and the full truth about abortion until they happened to find a pro-life center. 

In the past 10 years, Catholic fertility centers named for St. Gianna have opened in Manhattan, New Jersey, Floridan, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Long Island.

Founder and director of the Gianna Center in New York City, Dr. Anne Nolte, reflected on the growing number of women, some who drive for hours, who come to the Gianna Center for their reproductive health care because they could not find a single women's health doctor in their own community who could help them with natural family planning, an alternative to the birth control pill for a medical problem, or love and support through a difficult pregnancy if their baby were given an adverse prenatal diagnosis. 

So many women and couples facing the overwhelming pain of infertility or recurrent pregnancy loss are misled when their doctors tell them over and over that “their only hope would be life-destroying IVF,” without looking at the underlying causes of the infertility when IVF is simply not an option for them. The Gianna model is based on medical science while honoring the sanctity of the human person, the dignity of women and the integrity of marriage. 

Medical support for the families who are trying to live according to the beautiful teachings of the Gospel, and the families themselves who evangelize the culture through their very existence, are crucial for a true culture of life to flourish. The Gianna Mission goal is to have a Gianna Center at the service of every diocese by the year 2023, the 50th anniversary of the devastating Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

In a recent letter describing the Gianna mission and appealing for support, Dr. Nolte wrote, “As fellow members of the Body of Christ, we cannot be like the Pharisees, ‘tying up heavy burdens but doing nothing to lift them’ by proclaiming a set of ethical values and principles related to sexual and reproductive health but not doing anything to practically and concretely to support women and families as they strive to live out these values.This is why we created the Gianna Center — to fill that gap and meet that need of women and families, offering health care that is both completely in line with Church teaching and of the highest quality, while delivering it with a profound respect for the dignity of the human person and the central role of the family in the health of society.”

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla was born in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 4, 1922, the 10th of 13 children. She grew up with a strong faith and a commitment to prayer. While studying medicine, she dedicated herself to the needy and elderly with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In 1950 she opened a medical clinic and specialized in pediatrics at the University of Milan. Gianna gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor.

She saw her work as a “mission” and increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the “very young.” She loved the outdoors and enjoyed skiing and mountaineering.

She married Pietro Molla in 1955 and dedicated herself to “forming a truly Christian family.” She had three children and juggled the demands of wife, mother, doctor, Catholic.

In September 1961, toward the end of the second month of pregnancy, she developed a fibroma in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer. “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child—I insist on it. Save the baby.” On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of April 28, in extreme pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you,” mother Gianna died. She was 39 years old. 

Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, and officially canonized as a saint on May 16, 2004. Gianna’s husband Pietro and their children including Gianna, were present at the canonization ceremony.

St. Gianna is a patron saint for mothers, physicians and unborn children.

The Gianna Center in Manhattan opened on Dec. 8, 2009, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The work of the Gianna Center is very different from a standard ob-gyn office. For years, the standard medical approach to women’s health has boiled down to using the birth-control pill to treat problems in any women who are not trying to get pregnant and then using IVF for women trying to get pregnant who can’t. Fortunately, the work of the Pope Paul VI Institute has given us a better medical foundation. Now that we have the tools they’ve developed, including NaPro Technology, Catholic doctors can learn and deliver better care. There are a growing number of women asking for it and a growing number of medical professionals wanting to provide it.

The work of the Gianna Center is different in other ways too. It takes a lot of time with the patient to get to know symptoms, make a good diagnosis and then educate her about her cycle. The way health care is set up, however, time spent with a patient is the most poorly reimbursed care given. Insurance reimburses more for surgery or seeing lots of patients in a short period of time. To remedy that, the Gianna Center is working for a more just reimbursement structure with health insurance companies. Committed to Catholic ethics, the center serves anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.