Married to a Saint: The Holy Marriage of St. Gianna and Her Husband, Pietro
Daughter Gianna Emanuela Molla and others testify to a blessed union.
It’s impossible for Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of St. Gianna, to think of her mother’s holy life without recalling her father’s, for entwined within the heart of her “Saint Mom” shines the example of her “holy Dad,” whose humble, heroic words and actions have indelibly shaped her life.
“Like my Mom, he, too, belonged to a big family and was blessed with two deeply Christian parents,” she said in a written interview with the Register. “Certainly, the roots of his holiness are in the origin of his family, and I would like to spread the knowledge also of my dearest, very humble paternal grandparents, whom I love deeply.”
Following St. Gianna Beretta Molla’s heroic death in April 1962 — when she sacrificed her own health and life to give birth to their youngest child, Gianna Emanuela — Pietro asked that attention be focused only on his bride.
But after his own death in April 2010, at nearly 98 years old, that same child, Gianna Emanuela, began to see God’s holy will in revealing her father’s virtues to the world.
She started working meticulously to prepare her parents’ letters to one another for publication.
“I remember that, in a first moment, I feared the publication of his letters to Mom could violate his soul that was so noble and pure, so God-fearing, and the deepest feelings he had in his very great heart,” Gianna Emanuela said. “Then I became convinced that his letters could do a lot of good to many souls.”
In April 2016, she said, the Holy Spirit gave her the inspiration to include her father’s life and name in the forthcoming St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life; it is a project that Pietro had, years earlier, helped conceive. It’s a decision she’s certain pleased her mother as well, for the Mollas’ marriage was a blessed union.
A Saint Testifies Through Letters
The couple’s letters to one another illustrate how they supported each other in all things, rooted in faith.
In a letter St. Gianna wrote Pietro on Sept. 13, 1955, about a week before their wedding, she said, “Dearest Pietro, I’m sure that you will always make me as happy as I am now and that the Lord will listen to your prayers, coming from a heart that has always loved him and served him in a saintly way. Pietro, how much I have to learn from you! You are such a fine example for me, and I thank you for it.”
She wrote him again, during their married life, on Feb. 22, 1958, saying, “As I have told you other times, your faith and your piety are a great example to me. I want to learn to pray as you do, dear Pietro.”
And on June 5, 1959, she wrote, “… you really are the dearest and most affectionate little husband, a saintly papa, not of gold, but of diamond, the biggest and most precious one there is on this earth!”
“My Mom’s words have an even greater value now that she has been canonized a Saint of the universal Church,” Gianna Emanuela said, “and I fully agree with her!”
A Daughter’s Recollections
Gianna Emanuela, who speaks frequently about her parents, also told the Register, “My parents’ powerful example and life teaching help me also in this effort, and in particular: their persevering great faith, hope and charity; their complete reliance on Our Lord; their unbounded and persevering confidence in his divine Providence; their intense prayer life and continued prayers of gratitude to the Lord and the Virgin Mary; their deep humility; their great spirit of sacrifice; their heroic acceptance of God’s holy will, always, even when it’s difficult to accept.”
Because her mother died when she was a week old, she explained to the Register, “According to [God’s] will, I couldn’t get to know my Mom personally; however, the Lord, in his infinite goodness, granted me the extraordinary grace to live with my Dad for the longest time: 48 years of my life. … All these years, I could see his example with my own eyes; this has been for me so very important, a true blessing!
“While living with him, I completely understood why my Saint Mom took example from him, and I learned what it means to be a ‘saint of everyday life.’ His life and writings reveal that his soul was totally immersed in God; that his unshakeable faith permeated and strengthened every single aspect of his life. … He left me an extraordinary spiritual legacy, through his Christian and moral virtues.”
She added, “Anything he taught me with his living example remains with me and helps me a lot in this effort, in particular: his great spirit of prayer; his deepest humility; his great enthusiasm, willpower, courage and farsightedness; his infinite patience; his magnificent goodness and generosity; his calm and serenity, even in very difficult situations or in the presence of troubles to be solved; his exemplary spirit of service. I can testify that, throughout his long life, he did the greatest part of his huge work as a volunteer, without receiving any money.”
A Cardinal Offers Evidence
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who wrote to Pietro on several occasions before his death, also considers Pietro’s virtue worthy of reflection.
“I was blessed to visit him twice, and I say, without any hesitation, I had a very strong impression of his saintliness,” he told the Register, noting that Pietro died on Holy Saturday.
“I knew even before then that he was a very refined man, a very intelligent man, and he had been keeping all of the writings, his own and [St.] Gianna’s,” along with items from their family home, he told the Register. “It was clear that the life they had together, which wasn’t very long, because she died young … was a holy marriage, and he wanted to honor it in every way possible.”
Cardinal Burke said it has been a privilege working with Gianna Emanuela to share the witness of her parents’ lives. “[Pietro] wouldn’t have wanted to put himself forward — he was a very humble person, very demure — but he wanted the great gift of their marriage to be better known.”
Their union, he said, reminds him of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, “and how very clear it was that they were the instruments by which God brought St. Thérèse along to become so heroically saintly.”
Recalling a shrine to the Holy Family in Kalisz, Poland, he said, “The family, as we see perfectly in the Holy Family, reflects the unity of love in the Holy Trinity,” and in marriage, the spouses should help one another become saintly, as evidenced especially in the love letters of St. Gianna and Pietro, which “are such a wonderful expression of the purity of heart and complete cooperation with God in their love for one another and in forming their family.”
The Mollas attest to the graces of matrimony, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children’” (1641).
Other Religious Weigh In
Other witnesses to the holy marriage offer testimony too.
Gianna Emanuela mentioned that Pope St. Paul VI met her father seven times, both before and after becoming pope.
Father Agostino Cerri, the parish priest in Ponte Nuovo, the small Italian village where Gianna and Pietro lived the six and a half years of their conjugal and family life, wrote to Gianna Emanuela in April 2013, assuring her that the Pope had “expressed his admiration for your saint parents on different occasions to me.”
Gianna Emanuela pointed to the volume of correspondence. “Many letters that my Dad received — for example, the ones from my uncle Father Alberto, my Mom’s brother, who is now a ‘Servant of God’ — are beautiful and spiritually very rich.”
Father Alberto Beretta, she recalled, wrote to Pietro on Jan. 1, 1981, of the cultural crisis of the family, “the most important of any other problem,” and how the Mollas’ marriage could serve as a witness.
“It is God himself who wants your example and that of Gianna to be known,” he wrote. “Let’s thank the Lord for so much goodness in choosing you as his collaborators. It is about doing the family apostolate, the most urgent, the most necessary, anywhere in the world …”
An American priest and St. Gianna devotee, Father Gino Dalpiaz, a Scalabrinian who served in several locations in New York, Chicago and Rome, wrote Gianna Emanuela after reading her written review, “Gianna, Smile of God”: “Without your father, your mother would not have become the woman, the saint, she has become. She would have lacked something really precious and unique. In St. Gianna Beretta Molla, we can feel the influence of her ‘dear Pedrin.’ Your father was a really holy man.”
After Pietro’s death, Gianna Emanuela said, more religious and laypeople came forward, writing her about how the Lord had blessed her “with two ‘saint parents’; that my parents are two ‘saint spouses,’ and that they pray to them and ask for intercession.”
“I am collecting a growing number of testimonies about my Dad’s reputation as a holy man, from different countries of the world, even as far away as Australia,” Gianna Emanuela said, all of which “are a great consolation for me and a further confirmation that my Saint Mom was perfectly right [about Pietro]!”
Thoughts From the Laity
The publication of The Journey of Our Love: The Letters of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla, underscored her mother’s sanctity and helped bring to light her father’s “great personality and spirituality,” Gianna Emanuela said.
After meeting Gianna Emanuela in the United States in September 2017, one woman wrote to her to share how “blessed and deeply touched” she was by her presence and talk and how it had encouraged her “to keep fighting for my family and the salvation of my husband’s and children’s souls,” as Gianna Emanuela shared with the Register.
“I knew your Mom’s biography, but for the first time, I listened more about your Dad’s,” the woman had written, “and that day, I realized the role that your Dad played in the sanctity of your Mom.”
The woman added, “Our husbands need the example of your Dad! ... He found a balance between his successful career, his family and, more amazingly, his faith.”
The letter helped Gianna Emanuela better understand the impact of her father’s life, she said, “not only for me and my family, but for everyone, especially for men; his example gives hope and comfort.” She added, “He followed St. Joseph’s example, to whom he was so very devoted.”
Since the publication of her parents’ letters, she said, an increasing number of people from all over the world have asked her about opening her father’s cause toward possible beatification and canonization.
She recalled her father’s words to her years ago, regarding her mother’s cause, which led to her canonization in 2004: “‘God has put the right persons in the right place in the right moment’ … and I heartily hope and pray to Our Lord it can be the same for my holy Dad.”
As St. Gianna said herself, “Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.”
In response to requests, a prayer for private devotion to Pietro has been prepared and given ecclesiastical approval, daughter Gianna Emanuela Molla said, for the benefit of those wishing to participate in promoting his glorification on behalf of the Church. The prayer can be found here, in a letter from Cardinal Raymond Burke.
To learn more about the efforts of Gianna Emanuela Molla in North Dakota, read this related story by Roxane Salonen.
This story was updated after posting.