St. Gianna and Pietro Molla Foundation, Center for Family and Life Moves Forward
Project planned for Springfield, Illinois, locale.
At a spring 2018 gala honoring St. Gianna Beretta Molla in Fargo, North Dakota, attended by her youngest of four children, Gianna Emanuela, guests learned of plans for a center dedicated to the fruits of the saint’s life and that of her holy husband, Pietro.
They also learned the project would be housed not in Italy, as originally planned, but in the United States, where devotion to St. Gianna has been especially vibrant.
Since then, a foundation has been established in North Dakota to promulgate the memory of this exemplary couple, and, after a several-year search, a fitting space has been found for the center.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, president of the foundation, said the St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life will be housed near Springfield, Illinois, where a 25-acre portion of land has been selected for pilgrimage, prayer and promoting marriage and the pro-life cause.
“I can’t predict when we’ll be able to inaugurate the [center],” Cardinal Burke told the Register, “but, certainly, the idea is to get to work on it right away.”
Prayerful Vision Takes Shape
The vision for such a center, which Pietro held in his heart many years before his death at age 97 in 2010, is manifesting steadily now.
In written notes, Gianna Emanuela told the Register that the center will include a replica of the spousal home of her saintly parents in Ponte Nuovo of Magenta, in Milan, Italy, noting, “in every room, the original furniture — the same furniture I am actually using in my daily life — will be placed.”
The residence also will provide a home for Gianna Emanuela when visiting the United States. She often comes to the U.S. to gives talks about her mother and father.
Additionally, a replica of her parent’s home church, the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel, will be erected, housing relics of St. Gianna and mementos of Pietro. It is the original chapel to which Pietro “attributed the grace of meeting my Mom,” Gianna Emanuela said, recounting how her father asked Our Lady “to let him meet ‘a holy mother for his (future) children.’”
A pilgrim center with an interactive exhibit will offer a history of the couple’s lives, with rest spaces outside featuring panels that, according to Gianna Emanuela, will bear “the virtues that my parents expressed in their writings and in their lives” for additional reflection.
A shrine church of St. Gianna, whose feast day is April 28, will mark the essential moments of the couple’s lives, depicted through wall paintings, along with ceiling art of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, “with, maybe, two nuptial rings in the middle.”
The center also will have a rectory for visiting clergy and, on its grounds, a Way of the Cross and Way of the Rosary.
Significant for Our Time
Cardinal Burke said the world, “suffering from so much confusion, violence and death,” begs for such a center reflecting the virtues of a couple who “lived their marriage vows in such an exemplary way,” to help convert hearts to live according to God’s plan.
The unrest, after all, springs from “the attack on human life and its cradle — the love of man and woman in marriage.”
It will provide an antidote to the culture, he said, which “lies to us, telling us this [baby] is like a growth, almost like a tumor, or something to be removed, completely ignoring the fact that this is indeed a human life, made in God’s own image and likeness, from the very beginning.”
Cardinal Burke indicated that the examples of St. Gianna and Pietro, who tirelessly devoted himself to his family after his wife’s self-sacrificing death at 39, will bring needed light to the culture.
He also credited Gianna Emanuela, who left her profession as a medical doctor to pursue this cause. “She’s very prayerful and feels that the Lord wants her to dedicate the rest of her days to promoting devotion to her saintly mother” and to her father, another model of heroic virtue, the cardinal explained.
A Priest Takes Part
Father Tim Elliott, pastor of St. Gianna Catholic Church in Wentzville, Missouri, and vice president of the foundation, met Gianna Emanuela in 2015 while on pilgrimage in Italy, including St. Gianna’s hometown, with a group of parishioners.
“I’ve since gone with Gianna Emanuela to several places in the country to look at land,” he said, noting that they had also considered Denver and Minneapolis but confronted obstacles in each locale.
He said that Gianna Emanuela is “a very clear reflection of her mother” and in that sense, with her dedicated but humble, sweet and prayerful presence, a living gift to all.
As for the project, Father Elliott said, “This land, near the city of Springfield, is flat because it’s farmland right now. It’s a nice setting with lots of trees around it” and central to the nation, being in the heartland.
As a pastor, he said, he sees so many broken families and people who don’t understand the beauty and dignity of the sacrament of marriage, which St. Gianna and Pietro exemplified in part through their love letters to each other.
“I imagine this as a place where people could come from around the country, and maybe the world, to get close to St. Gianna and her husband and her family,” the priest said. “You’ll be able to, in a sense, step into the family’s life,” experiencing the “pro-life, pro-family agenda that flowed from their family and marriage.”
The North Dakota Connection
The foundation’s home base alludes to friendships Gianna Emanuela has formed in North Dakota through the years, starting with a group led by now-Archbishop Samuel Aquila that traveled to Italy in 2002 to meet the Molla family.
Mary Pat Jahner was among them and in the process of founding a maternity home in Warsaw, North Dakota, named for St. Gianna. She recalls how, when meeting Pietro at their family home, then-Bishop Aquila, the only one versed in Italian and able to converse with him, looked over at his English-speaking companions and said, smiling, “He’s telling me about their honeymoon.”
Afterward, Pietro gave Jahner a tour of the house, showing her their piano, paintings and other items revealing their life together. “I was so struck with how much he still loved her,” Jahner said. “They had a beautiful, romantic partnership, and in so many ways, Pietro is the way that we know St. Gianna.”
Though Jahner also met Gianna Emanuela that day, she figured it would be the last encounter, not anticipating their crossing paths again at St. Gianna’s canonization in May 2004 and becoming close friends.
“It is a great gift to have [St. Gianna] as our patron,” Jahner said, noting how much the family has suffered for the Church; first, through their mother and wife’s death, and, later, the death of their daughter, Mariolina, at age 6. “I think St. Gianna has truly brought us into her whole family.”
60 Years Later
It has been 60 years since St. Gianna’s death this April 28, marking a life of deep faith, suffering and a final sacrifice that allowed Gianna Emanuela, with whom St. Gianna was pregnant at the time, to be with us today.
Cardinal Burke said he gladly anticipates having a concrete place where St. Gianna and Pietro can speak to hearts, “to those couples who come on pilgrimage, but also people in other states of life, giving them hope,” and “a new energy for the apostolate of life and of the family.”
“The world is changed by the conversion of hearts,” he said, noting that the center will be an important agent for this and for the fortification of hearts already converted. “That, to me, is a great source of joy.”
For God’s provision in bringing the center to the United States, he added, “What a wonderful gift. Let’s all get behind it, because nothing is more important than the family and the fostering of human life within it.”
A website with updates on the progress of the center and goals of the foundation is underway. “I humbly ask the readers to keep praying fervently for this, God’s work,” Gianna Emanuela said, requesting financial support from those able. “I thank you in advance for your generosity!”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To lend financial support to the center, visit this site.