She was a dark haired woman with a strong honest face. Her beauty was in the love which emanated from her warm eyes and made her more beautiful than any of the worldly icons even thought of being. Having a keen mind, Gianna Beretta felt called to medicine and completed medical school. Always loving children, she took a double specialty - OB-GYN and Pediatrics and after she finished her residencies, her desire to reach out to the people influenced her to open a clinic in a small town in her native Italy.
Gianna was not a wealthy doctor - those who labor in clinics and treat the poor never are. Contributing to her lack of material wealth was that she also never hesitated to give her services free to those who could not afford to pay.
A good doctor works long hours and Gianna was no exception. Pregnant mothers felt so secure in her care because they knew no matter what time of night they needed her, she would be there for them. If she found a patient was too sick to continue his present line of work, she spent much time to help him to find a more suitable job.
The young physician, who had consecrated herself to God as a student, was known in the village as a fine doctor. She also did not compromise herself while carrying out her duties. For example, if she was approached by someone wanting an abortion, she refused, informing them that this was a grave offense against God. She told them,
"If one were to consider how much Jesus suffered, one would not commit the smallest sin."In the fifties, Gianna knew the importance of treating the soul as well as the body, the underlying philosophy of holistic medicine when she wrote:
"Unfortunately there is a superficiality in our work too. We treat bodies but sometimes we are not competent".
In her spare time, she worked with the children and with the St Vincent's Society in her church.
When Gianna met Peter Molla, she knew he was the man God had picked for her. They married and Gianna told her husband,
"I want really a christian family, where God is like one of the family; a little cenaculum where He can reign in our hearts, enlighten our decisions and guide our programmes."And create a Christian home, the two did, having three fine children. God was the third party in their home and the children thrived. And when they found out that their mother was expecting again, they rejoiced and awaited the happy event.
But now, God was to ask His Servant for a special gift of her love. Two months into the pregnancy, Gianna was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her womb.
She was given three choices. The 'wise' choice to save her life would have been to kill the growing baby in her womb, and remove both the tumor and the uterus. Or she could have the tumor removed and have a therapeutic abortion, also killing her baby. The third choice was to have the tumor removed and nothing more done. This choice was one which while saving her baby, would likely put Gianna's life at risk.
Gianna did not hesitate but being the fine mother she was, she begged the doctor to save her baby. She told Peter that if a choice between her and the baby came up, he was to not hesitate to choose the life of her baby over hers.
Peter, her loving husband must have been tearful as he feared that Gianna might not be with him much longer but he too, was of the same mind as his wife - that the pre-born little baby must come first.
The surgery on the tumor was successful and the baby in Gianna's womb, a little girl, thrived. Gianna prayed that her condition would not cause pain to her newest little one.
On April 21, 1962, Holy Saturday, Gianna delivered her last child whom they named Gianna Emanuela after her mother.
Little Gianna was healthy but they were not able to save her mother and eight days after she delivered little Gianna, Dr Gianna Beretta Molla died. She had been in intense pain due to septic peritonitis, an expected result of her 'choice'. And likely Dr Gianna Molla, knew full well that the decision to save her little girl would have a good chance to result in the ending of her life.
On April 24, 1994, 32 years after her birth, Gianna Emanuela was present in St Peter's Cathedral when Pope John Paul II proclaimed her mother, 'Blessed', the first step in the church's process to recognized sainthood. I say, 'recognized' because we know many saints do not become officially recognized and yet, they are saints all the same (Martin Luther King comes to mind in that category).
Gianna's decision to not save her own life is not well understood, even among church people and the argument is often brought up
"Should she not have sacrificed the life of one child so that the other children would not grow up motherless?"Moral decisions are never easy. Mostly they are gruellingly hard. Gianna was an athlete and a scholar who was happily married, had a career and generally enjoyed life. It's likely she was not real impressed when she realized that she might be close to death. Who would be? But as a mother, how COULD she go against every instinct and belief and choose to murder her baby so she could go on living? She couldn't.
What if she had made the usual 'choice' - abortion? Would her life go on being charmed? Or would she wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, hearing a baby cry and wondering what the child she allowed to be killed, would have grown up to be. How can a person get over mourning if one knows she CAUSED the death of another and not just a stranger but her own child?
Abortion is not an easy decision. As a matter of fact, it might be an even more difficult decision than one's OWN death.
Bishop Sheen says that virtue is a few moments of pain, and joy for a lifetime while sin is a few moments of pleasure and pain for a lifetime. Was Gianna really foolish for making the decision to allow HER death rather than the death of her child? Perhaps allowing the death of her child would have caused a much greater death for Gianna, the death of her soul, slowly and excrutiatingly painfully throughout a life which has now become ruined with the blood of the innocent child.
What about the children left childless? If we have any faith in God, we have to have faith that He would not leave her little ones without care. He would not irresponsibly call Gianna if He did not have a plan for her children to be cared for. Gianna must have felt this when she made her decision because she had written previously, "When one does one's own duty, one must not be concerned, because God's help will not be lacking".
And one must consider the effect of her act on her children. Perhaps
it's easier to meditate on this if we think of how a decision to abort
affects the siblings. The children get the idea that children are not sacred,
life is not that important and that their protective mother is only protective
if her OWN life is not in danger. Siblings of the aborted child sometimes
wonder what would have happened if THEY were the luckless child to be aborted.
Children know that a mother who really loved them would give her life for
them. And not feeling loved is far more hurtful on children than losing
their mother to a holy death.
Gianna Emanuela must feel that her mother loved her so much. So much
to give her life so that Gianna Emanuela could live. What a beautiful thought
to carry through life. What richness! And Gianna's sibs knew that the most
important thing to their mother was the well being of the children. Since
Gianna loved Gianna Emanuela that much, they can be sure their mom loved
THEM just as much. Dr Gianna Beretta Molla had written,
"Look at the mothers who truly love their children -how many sacrifices they make for them. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood so that their babies grow up good, healthy and strong."
There are many types of richness one can give their kids and these children will carry the love of their mother throughout their lives, enriching them greatly. Gianna did NOT desert her children!
(Gianna Emanuela Molla followed in her mother's footsteps. Today, she is a physician saving the lives of others as her mother did. She serves as an advisory on the board of directors of the Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla Society as does her Dad, Peter Molla.)
I feel very close to this saint but did not know until I researched her life, that my life may be more intertwined with hers than I knew.
It was that year, 1962 - on the Thursday before Palm Sunday that I had my conversion experience wherein I realized that Jesus IS God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Gianna had already been suffering several months through her last pregnancy when this happened to me. She was less than a week from delivery and less than 3 weeks from her Holy Death. If she prayed that her baby was not having pain did this mean that she, though uncomplaining, was having a lot of pain and that this pain was being offered up in her constant prayers? Very likely! Did her prayers help to bring ME to God?
One year later, on Holy Thursday, in 1963, I was received into the Catholic Church and had my first Communion. The prayers of the saints DO help us - DO help to save so many souls. I know that it is not of my own merit that I came to conversion and Catholicism as I was and am most unworthy of this wonderful Gift which God has given me, of membership in the Catholic church. Therefore it must be the love and prayers of those saints around me which helped to enable ME to receive this wonderful gift of conversion.
Gianna Beretta Molla seems like a friend to me and perhaps she is praying for me in Heaven. Perhaps she is praying for you also.
She is a true Christian and a perfect model of motherhood. May we all follow her example and may her prayer be ours also:
"Lord, keep Your grace in my heart. Live in me so that Your grace be mine. Make it that I may bear every day some flowers and new fruit". (Bl. Gianna Beretta Molla, 1922-1962)
The Blessed Gianna Society
Holy Physicians website
The abortion files