A Life Sealed by Sacrifice

Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor

by Pietro Molla and Elio Gurriero

Ignatius, 2004

155 pages, $10.95

To order: (800) 651-1531

or ignatius.com

With the death of Pope John Paul II coming so soon before the April 28 feast of St. Gianna Molla, right now seems like the perfect time to consider the life of this heroic woman of God. After all, she was canonized by the Holy Father less than a year ago — on May 16, 2004, to be exact.

On that day, the Pope stated: “The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.” So it is that her life can be an example not only to mothers, wives and doctors, but also to every man, woman and child willing to try to take God seriously.

Gianna Beretta Molla lived a happy and holy life with her husband — Pietro, co-author of this book — and their three children. They loved children and desired a big family, but when Gianna became pregnant with their fourth child, a fibroid tumor threatened not only her life, but her baby’s, too. The risk to Gianna could have been eliminated by surgical removal of the diseased uterus, but at the cost of the baby’s life. Gianna would hear nothing of that.

Throughout the pregnancy, she made it clear to her husband and the doctors that she wanted to protect the life of the baby even if it meant increasing the risk to her own life. “She understood the risk she was taking,” the authors write, “but her vocation as physician and mother was to support life, not to threaten it.”

Gianna went on to deliver a healthy baby girl, Gianna Emanuela. Soon after the birth, Gianna’s health deteriorated. She developed septic peritonitis and suffered greatly for many days. Throughout her agony, she repeated, “Jesus, I love you, Jesus, I love you.” She died on April 28, 1962.

The book is divided into three sections. Part one tells of the lives of the Beretta and Molla families, and reveals how Pietro and Gianna became engaged. The holiness of their engagement can be held up as a model for couples preparing for the sacrament of matrimony. In a letter to Pietro, Gianna writes, “I have so much trust in the Lord, and I am certain that he will help me be a worthy spouse to you.”

Part two offers an interview with Pietro Molla in question-and-answer format. And a rare gift it is to consider the life of a saint through the eyes of her beloved spouse. Pietro recalls the suffering he endured after the death of his wife. “[T]hen the mystery of pain came down on me and my children after Gianna’s death and I felt myself crumble,” he writes. “I clung to Jesus crucified, to the certainty that Gianna lived with God in paradise.”

The last section is a similarly moving series of Pietro’s reflections on his late wife’s virtues. He describes St. Gianna with such a sense of awestruck love that it’s easy to forget that he’s not just one more admirer of a saint. Co-author Elio Guerriero explains in the introduction that he figured it best to transcribe these writings “in full, in all their beauty — stemming not so much from (Pietro’s) literary skill, but from the deeply felt love that permeates them and gives them life.” Good call, Elio.

Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor is not an ordinary account of a saint’s life. Nor is it the resource to turn to if you’re looking for clinical, technical or theological precision. In short, it’s more love story than chronicle. Read it and get a glimpse of the supernatural love that fuels the burning heart of the culture of life.

Robyn Lee is the Register’s

editorial assistant.