Gianna Beretta Molla’s ‘Sacrament of Love’
Saint’s Daughter to Discuss Marital Holiness at World Meeting of Families
SAINTLY MOM. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, her husband, Pietro, and three of their children, Pierluigi, Mariolina and Laura. Courtesy of Gianna Emanuela Molla
Editor’s Note: This is a longer version of the Sept. 20 print edition interview.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla is the patron saint of mothers, physicians and unborn children; along with St. John Paul II, she is an intercessor for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. St. Gianna heroically gave her own life to save that of her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, who followed in the footsteps of her saint-mother as a doctor herself.
In a summer email interview with the Register, Gianna Emanuela Molla discussed her mother’s holy witness in life and continued blessings in heaven, as well as how important her example is for modern families.
St. Gianna is a patron saint for mothers, physicians and unborn children — as well as one of the patrons of the World Meeting of Families. How needed is her life’s witness for the world today?
First of all, I would like to say I am so very happy my most beloved saint-mother is a patron saint for mothers, physicians and unborn children — and the patron saint of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia as well, together with dearest St. John Paul II, the “Pope of the Family.”
With all my heart, I thank His Excellency Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on behalf of all my family, as well. It’s really a great honor for my saint-mother, for my family and for all people devoted to my mom in the United States and all around the world.
I think the world today particularly needs my mother’s life witness, and perhaps today more than ever.
Her exemplary Christian life’s witness — her sacred respect for life, her great joy to live, her courage and spirit of sacrifice, her unlimited trust in divine Providence, her great love for life, for the Lord, for the Virgin Mary, for her family, for her neighbors and her patients, for my most beloved daddy, her most worthy spouse, for her children — [was constant] until her greatest gift of love: the sacrifice of her own life, giving birth to me. All these aspects are really like a bright light, a safe guide and a great hope for each of us on our journey towards holiness.
Dad used to tell me that Mom’s message is so wonderful, complete and always fully present. It’s a message of a mother of a family: a message of joy and of love, a simple message, but at the same time, a fundamental and a universal one.
Dearest Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan [Italy], stated what follows in an article he wrote on the occasion of my mother’s beatification, and published in Terra Ambrosiana, a publication of the Diocese of Milan:
“Gianna is, for sure, a saint of everyday life, and, in this sense, she represents a great hope for us: The conditions of her existence were the typical ones of an adolescent, of a young woman, of a doctor and of a mother; she lived them really loving each of them; all that she met, either people or events, was to her an occasion for growing in love and in the gift of herself. She loved life and all the beautiful things that are part of life: music, art, the mountains that brought her closer to God; she knew how to face serenely everyday troubles and toils, with the boredom of routine, with the monotony and the apparent banality of certain days and ways. The secret of her extraordinary yet everyday life has been the faith that she had received from her parents. She cherished that faith and made it grow, thanks to the word of God. It was kept alive by holy Communion and enhanced by charity. Her faith was enlightened by the power of Christ’s cross and by the glory of the risen Lord of all men, Son of God, revealer of his Father, the Truth that leads the whole history.”
I am particularly moved every time I think that my saint-mother, according to God’s will, is the first saint of the Diocese of Milan, after the great cardinal-saint Charles Borromeo, canonized in 1610.
How can I thank the Lord for the so precious and immeasurable gift who is my mom? Eternity will certainly not be enough for me to thank him!
The Lord chose my mom among many saint-mothers in paradise to be a model for us, and also in order to allow her to do a lot of good, like she has been doing in different countries of the world for many years now.
The theme of the World Meeting of Families is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” What would your mother say the world needs to hear about love rooted in Christ and family life?
My mom wrote in her notes for her weekly lectures to the girls of Catholic Action: “Love is the desire to improve ourselves and our beloved, to overcome our selfishness, to devote ourselves. … Love must be total, full, complete, ruled by the law of God and immortalized in heaven.”
In June 1954, at about age 32, my mom went to Lourdes to pray to the Virgin Mary to let her meet the man who would become her spouse. Our Lord was really calling my mother to the vocation of marriage, just as she was thinking about, and the Virgin Mary listened to her prayers and to my daddy’s prayers, as well! He was also praying to Our Lady to let him meet “a holy mother for his children.”
Thanks to the Virgin Mary, and the divine will of God, their wonderful hearts and souls could meet at last, because Mom and Dad already knew each other five years before this!
Mom was the first to declare her love to Dad, who was an extremely reserved and shy person.
In her very first letter to Dad, on Feb. 21, 1955, she wrote to him:
“Dearest Pietro ... I really want to make you happy and be what you desire: good, understanding and ready for the sacrifices that life will require of us. … Now there is you, whom I already love, and to whom I intend to give myself to form a truly Christian family.”
I can imagine the infinite joy of my dad! The day after, he wrote to Mom:
“I love you, my dearest Gianna. I could not have received a greater or more ardently desired grace from our heavenly Mother, Our Lady of Good Counsel, as she is invoked in my little church in Ponte Nuovo. … My love is yours, and I want to raise a family with you. I, too, want to make you happy and understand you well.”
They truly lived their engagement time as “a time of grace,” with great joy and a deep gratitude to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary, as they prayed to them for their future family every day more and more.
On Sept. 3, 1955, 20 days before their marriage, Mom wrote to Dad:
“Dearest Pietro … what would you say about our making a triduum to prepare spiritually to receive this sacrament? Holy Mass and holy Communion on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd — you at Ponte Nuovo, I at the Shrine of the Assumption. The Blessed Mother will unite our prayers, desires, and, because strength is found in unity, Jesus can’t help but listen to us and answer our prayers. I’m sure you will say Yes, and I thank you.”
Dad welcomed with all his enthusiasm my mom’s “holy suggestion.”
Ten days later, on Sept. 13, Mom wrote to Dad:
“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. With God’s help and blessing, we will do all we can to make our new family a little cenacle where Jesus will reign over all our affections, desires and actions. My Pietro, our wedding is just a few days away now, and I feel very moved to be so near to receiving the Sacrament of Love. We will be working with God in his creation; in this way, we can give him children who will love and serve him.”
I think my parents’ wonderful words are the best ones I could use to answer your question.
Your mother and father seemed to create a domestic church full of love and faith. What can the example of your family teach today’s Catholic families?
Along with their conjugal and family life, my mom and my dad made concrete and fully realized during all their engagement time their aspirations, desires and promises, always living in God’s grace, with his blessing and continuously doing his holy will.
They always lived their love in the light of faith.
As I transcribed Dad’s letters to Mom, which were published after his death, I understood completely that their love was so great, and could only be so great, profound and true, because the Lord and our heavenly Mother were always present. They were an integral part of this love, just as they were already an integral part of their whole lives.
There are many aspects of my parents’ marriage that profoundly enlighten me and move me, including their deep faith and unwavering confidence in divine Providence, their deep humility and their infinite mutual love, which made them more serene and stronger. I am also deeply touched by their immeasurable love for us, the children, and their family, their reciprocal, continuous communication and support, their intense and constant prayers to thank God and the Virgin Mary and their love and charity towards their neighbors.
From April 26 to June 16, 1959, my dad (who was a mechanical engineer and a director of Saffa, a well-known match factory in Ponte Nuovo of Magenta) took a long business trip to the United States. During this time, he wrote letters to my mom almost every day, to make himself closer to her. Mom, who was expecting my sister Laura, did the same.
From New York, on May 31, 1959, Dad wrote a letter to Mom, which is comprised of a wonderful prayer named “The Prayer of My Flights”:
“Jesus … bless Gianna and our treasures! Change into grace their anxiety and worry over my long absence and my flights. Please hear, today and always, the prayers of Gianna, of my Gigetto, of my mother and of all those who love me! Look upon my Mariolina’s little folded hands! … And grant that I may advance always in your ways at every moment, just as the plane flies right on course, safe, directed by radio. May I always have a holy fear of you. … Grant that a serene and luminous atmosphere may always enfold our family, like the atmosphere in the sky through which I am flying and the purity of the clear air I am breathing.
Grant that the clouds just skim over us and quickly leave us alone, like the little clouds up here. Keep my family and my dear ones safe, happy and peaceful in your ways and in your light, today and always, until the day we will fly up, up, always higher, up to you. Amen.”
And Mom wrote back to Dad: “[Y]ou 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!”
Mom and Dad truly lived the sacrament of marriage as a vocation and as a path towards holiness.
Their example can enlighten the Christian journey of young people, fiancés, spouses, parents and families and encourage, support and comfort them along life’s trials, difficulties and sufferings.
I am praying to them so that the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia can produce many spiritual fruits, much courage and hope in the hearts of all people and families who will participate from all over the world, and in particular for those who suffer or have difficulties for different reasons.
One of my favorite quotes of your mother’s is: “As to the past, let us entrust it to God’s mercy, the future to divine Providence. Our task is to live holy the present moment.” Also related, your mother said, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that he, in his goodness, sends to us day after day.” How does her advice relate to modern Catholics, and specifically families, in a culture that is always focusing on fast solutions and future planning? How can Catholic families live holy, moment to moment?
On July 5, 1955, during their engagement time, Mom had written to Dad:
“My dearest Pietro .... it’s true; there will be sorrows, too, but if we always love each other as we do now, then, with God’s help, we’ll know how to bear them together. Don’t you think so? For now, though, let’s enjoy the happiness of loving each other. I was always told that the secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank the Lord for all that he, in his goodness, sends to us day after day.”
Dad wrote to Mom, on Feb. 19, 1958, when she, as a pediatrician, was very worried for my brother Pierluigi’s health troubles:
“Dearest Gianna … don’t worry. … We can’t do much about all the things, but everything — or nearly everything — depends on Providence and on the Lord: things like health and [the] future of our children and future of our health. I’m trying to trust completely and pray for Providence with the greatest possible confidence. I have a trust that almost gives me an intuition and a certainty that the clouds will disperse and these troubles will go away. For this reason, I appear to you … an optimist.”
According to God’s will, Mom and Dad lived together their conjugal and family life for only six and a half years; then the Lord asked my mom to enter paradise at only 39. She died of septic peritonitis one week after my birth. During my pregnancy, she had been operated on for a huge fibroma, a benign tumor, in her uterus.
Dad lived 48 years without Mom’s visible presence. They went on to be “one heart and soul,” spiritually very united and in communion with each other. True love — that is, the love which lasts forever — is really much stronger than death!
Only two years after my mom’s death, my little sister Mariolina joined her in heaven, at the young age of 6.
Although Dad suffered so very much during his life, he still repeated many times to me: “Eternity will not be enough for me to thank the Lord for all the graces he granted me during my long life.”
My saintly parents’ lives teach me that “the way of the cross” is certainly the right way I have to follow to reach, one day, paradise’s joy, God’s sight and joy forever.
The way of the cross, which is closely connected and indissoluble from the way of the Resurrection, as our Lord Jesus has witnessed and shown, is the most uncomfortable and difficult one to face as a human; however, it is the only way which allows us to give a full and complete meaning to our life.
As our heavenly Mother has well taught us, this way implies our unconditional and continuous “Yes” to the Lord’s will, our humble acceptance of his holy will, always and in any way, even when we don’t understand it.
My saintly parents’ lives teach me that “the way of the cross” is certainly “the way of joy,” as well, of the most true and profound happiness, which is the prelude to the greatest and most profound joy to delight in God’s sight, one day and forever.
Even walking along the way of the cross, we can live in joy when we have the Lord in our hearts, when we fulfill his holy will and when we see every single thing that occurs to us in the light of faith. This also leads us to feel the duty to thank Our Lord continuously and for all, for each breath of ours, for each of his gifts — even for the gift of suffering.
At the World Meeting of Families, you will be speaking with others about “Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord: The Heartbreak of Infertility.” How should Catholic husbands and wives approach fertility and infertility in light of Catholic teaching?
I think both His Eminence Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk and Dr. Kyle A. Beiter — who will speak before me — are the most expert and authoritative persons to answer this question.
What I can say is that, according to me, on the one hand, Catholic husbands and wives should approach fertility and infertility following the teaching and indications of the Catholic Church, of course; on the other, they should place in God’s hands, also, this fundamental aspect of their conjugal life, relying completely on him and trusting in him through an intense and persevering prayer. I think their hearts should go on to remain open to God’s will and plan for them and to be always ready to accept God’s will as well, even if sometimes it is very difficult.
After their marriage, my mom and dad prayed a lot to Our Lord and to the Virgin Mary for receiving the so eagerly-awaited, Divine gift and grace of children.
On Dec. 13, 1955, about two and a half months after their wedding, my dad wrote a letter to Mom from Zurich, Switzerland, while he was there on business; in this letter, there is this wonderful prayer:
“Dearest wife … last night, at every Joyful Mystery of the holy Rosary, I had a special prayer for you and for our new family: ‘May the Lord and our heavenly Mother bless our love and render it fruitful! Hasten the day when Gianna, happier than she has ever been before, can share with me and our loved ones the holy news that a new life stirs within her!
After this Christmas, may the Christmases to come see our children praying before Baby Jesus! O Lord, O heavenly Mother, give us the grace and joy of bringing our children to your altar and consecrating them to you! O Lord, keep us always vigilant, like the Holy Family of Nazareth, to give our children a holy education!’”
Related to your talk at the World Meeting of Families, how did you come to talk about infertility?
Granted, at first, it was a great surprise to me to know that my talk was included in the session on infertility; then I realized that divine Providence was giving me a wonderful occasion to praise and to give glory to the Lord!
My joy was even bigger when I found out my talk would be on Thursday, Sept. 24, on the day of the 60th wedding anniversary of my saintly parents. What a special grace of God for me!
Being the last speaker, I would like to conclude by leaving a strong message of hope in everyone’s hearts, in particular in those married couples who have not still been able to conceive and go on to hope and suffer so much. “Nothing is impossible with God” [Luke 1:37], and I realize, every day more and more, that my saint-mother’s intercession is really powerful!
I can say I indirectly know a little about “The Heartbreak of Infertility,” because a lot of married couples, from different countries of the world, ask me, implore me, to pray to my saint-mother to intercede for receiving the so eagerly-awaited gift of a child, and I am really so happy to help them with my prayers.
I can testify that the most frequent grace received through my saint-mother’s intercession, in different parts of the world, is just this: the gift of a child, even after seven years and more of marriage, even after more than one miscarriage.
And when God’s will and his divine plan upon the married couples are different from their wish, some of them write me or tell me that my saint-mom helps them to accept God’s will, to open themselves to a different way “to be fertile” “through other vital forms of self-giving, building and service.” There are some married couples who decide to adopt a child, and they have written me [telling me] they feel my mother very close to them, in this long and difficult way; that she helps them; she listens to their prayers and supplications.
Mom wrote in her notes for her weekly lectures to the girls of Catholic Action: “Each vocation is a vocation to maternity: physical, spiritual, moral maternity, because God has placed in us the instinct of life.”
I understand that your medical area of expertise is geriatrics. How does your faith inform your work as a physician? Do you often seek your mother’s guidance in your work?
I practiced my profession always trying to do my best (Mom used to tell the girls of Catholic Action: “Never do things halfway”), with great joy, in the light and under the guidance of my faith and of my mother’s wonderful example. She considered and practiced medicine as a true mission, and I tried to do the same, with all my limitations, of course.
On January 2003, I left my profession to take care of my daddy, who had serious health problems. I had the joy, the grace and the privilege to assist him during the last seven years and three months of his long life, until he died on April 3, on Holy Saturday 2010, at the age of almost 98.
Among the reasons why I made this decision are as follows:
Dad was the biggest treasure I had in this earthly life; he has always loved my brothers and me so fondly; he has always been so very close to us, in good and in bad times, in moments of trial, difficulty and suffering.
If God’s will had been different, there would have been my mom beside Dad instead of me. Keeping always near him, and also putting my medical knowledge to his service, I felt that this would have made my mom happy, too; it was like doing something for her, as well.
Since my father’s death, I have been working full time at the service of the St. Gianna Foundation [GiannaBerettaMolla.org], founded in Milan, in 1999, by my dad and my uncle, Father Giuseppe [Beretta], Mom’s brother. I shared this very important decision in my life together with my daddy, sometime before he went to paradise.
Therefore, my mission has changed, but I am so very happy to dedicate my life to my mom and my dad and to all people, from different parts of the world, who write me, call me, look for me and need me, for my prayers and my help, because, like my dad used to tell me: “How many sufferings are there in the world!”
When I realized I could do some good for my neighbor also in this way, I became serene, and I thanked the Lord, with all my heart, for his gift.
In his homily at her canonization Mass, Pope St. John Paul II called Gianna a “significant messenger of divine love.” How have you seen this lived out in the lives of those devoted to her saintly intercession? What do those who have been blessed by her intercession tell you? How has your mother helped them in their lives?
Mom was surely one of God’s privileged creatures. God loved her very much, and she completely responded to his love. Even her last words before she died were: “Jesus, I love you.”
With her exemplary Christian life and death, she praised and gave glory to the Lord; through her powerful intercession, she goes on to give glory to God, and the Lord testifies his infinite love for us also through Mom’s intercession.
My saint-mother, with our heavenly Mother and all the saints in paradise, leads us to the Lord Jesus. Therefore, they are such a powerful help for us in our daily journey towards heaven. For many years now, I have felt that I am a part of an ever-growing family of people who pray to my mom; and so, I have never felt alone.
With great joy and emotion and my deepest gratitude to the Lord and to my mom, I receive testimonies, and more and more, from different countries of the world, especially from the United States, from Brazil and Argentina, of people who tell me they have been blessed by my saint-mom’s intercession.
Among these blessings there are: the so eagerly-awaited gift of a child; difficult pregnancies or deliveries, which have had a positive outcome for the mother and for the baby or babies; the recovery from an illness; spiritual favors, including the discovery of one’s own vocation; religious as well.
Blessed persons, in particular the married couples who have received the divine grace of a child after many years of marriage, tell me and write me that, really: “Nothing is impossible with God”; that God blessed them with a wonderful child, and they give infinite thanks to God for this; that the Lord blessed them with a child to complete his divine design upon their family, and they express to me their infinite happiness.
They tell me they would like to give their testimony, also in the presence of their child, of the received grace, whenever it’s possible, for the major glory of our God, because if they could conceive a child, then people can believe that the Lord goes on to do miracles even at the present time.
They write me about their deepest gratitude to my saint-mom for her intercession, which changed their lives. They speak about their love for her, who has, by now, become one of their family, and about their wish to spread her devotion to other persons, so that, through her example and her intercession, many more people could receive answered prayers.
Some people write to [tell] me that since they learned about the person and the witness of my mom, their life has changed. They are more serene, they live in a better way, with more joy and hope, and they would like to follow her example and became a saint.
Many married women and mothers write that my mom is like a friend, a sister, a mother for them; that mom is able to understand them because she lived their same problems, their same worries and difficulties. They tell me they feel my mom so very close in every circumstance; they turn to her for every problem, feeling helped and fulfilled. Some people pray to my mother to intercede for them so God will grant them the grace to have her same great faith and her same unlimited trust in divine Providence.
I also received some letters written by seminarians and religious people who prayed to my mother in a difficult moment of their spiritual life. They testify to have received her intercession, feeling helped and fulfilled.
And, of course, how have you seen her heavenly loving care in your own life and the lives of your family members?
Mom and Mariolina have always been the guardian angels of my dad, my brother, my sister and me.
Since she gave birth to me, Mom is always near me; she always protects me and helps me, in particular when I am in difficulty, in danger, in pain and suffering.
People tell me my life is such as a natural continuation of Mom’s life — that she goes on living through me. I feel the duty to live for her as well, trying to do my best to be worthy of her.
Dad had a very deep faith in the communion of saints. He used to tell me he felt a great many times in his life to have a special protection from Mom and Mariolina, as if they were really present. They helped him every time he had difficulties, and in many dangerous situations in his life was safe, thanks to those who protected him.
A few months after my mom was “born” into heaven, my daddy wrote a long letter addressed to my uncle, Father Alberto [Beretta], who was living in Brazil. He was mom’s brother and now “Servant of God,” of whom my father was very fond. This letter ends with a wonderful prayer to Our Lord and to my mother. Here is the prayer to my mom:
“And you, Gianna, help me to carry my cross, day after day, and to realize God’s will in a heroic way; that you may get the divine grace [for us] to become saints also, for our children and for me. Grant that every day may get us nearer to you and that every day we may go up a step of the mystical Jacob’s ladder, at the top of which you are waiting for us.
And grant that when God will call us, as well, he can find us worthy to come near, near, near you forever. Amen.”
I lived 48 years of my life with my dad, and I can say that Mom answered this dad’s prayer: She helped him to carry his cross, day after day, and to realize God’s will in an heroic way; and when the Lord called him as well, he was most worthy to live with Mom forever!
When dad died, on April 3, 2010, Holy Saturday, dearest Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, emeritus archbishop of Milan, sent a handwritten note to my family with these words:
“I share grief for engineer Molla’s death heartily. He was the consort of St. Gianna. She will have welcomed him in paradise with great joy, right when Easter is drawing near.”
Since Dad went to paradise, the guardian angels of my brother, my sister and me became three: Mom, Dad and Mariolina.
I always feel Mom and Dad near me — even better, “glued” to me — wherever I am, to guide my steps; I turn to them with my prayers continuously, and I know they listen to me.
I am living with the joy and the hope to be able to embrace them and Mariolina again, one day — and forever.
- Sept. 20-Oct. 3, 2015