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Catholic Heroes… St. Gianna Beretta Molla

April 26, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

God provides for His Church in this vale of tears. During times of doctrinal error, He raised up such saints as St. Athanasius, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Augustine. During the times of spiritual confusion after Luther posted his 95 theses, He provided the wonders of the spiritual exercises and depths of prayer through St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross.
So it is not surprising that during this battle for the sanctity of marriage and the protection of the unborn, He has provided us with Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who gave her life so that her child could live. “But Jesus called them together and said, let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for such is the kingdom of God. Amen” (Luke 18:16).
Gianna came from a long line of doctors. Hers was a faithful Catholic family that for many generations lived in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Born on October 4, 1922, she was one of thirteen children, blessed at a very early age to understand that life is a precious gift from God. Her education was profoundly Catholic and her formation well balanced as she developed a deep and intense prayer life while learning to live a life of charitable action.
Gianna possessed a great belief in the joys of surrendering to divine Providence while appreciating the grace of leading an effective life of prayer. A humble woman, she also recognized and made good use of the gifts that God had given her, such as her intellect and her liberality of heart. She diligently applied her abilities at both the secondary and university levels of her education. In addition, she applied the principles of her faith by serving both the young in the Catholic Action apostolate as well as the needy and elderly through the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Her yearning to help others led her to follow in the footsteps of her family, which included quite a few doctors. She attended the University of Pavia, about an hour’s drive southeast of Magenta, and graduated in 1949 with degrees in both medicine and surgery.
After her graduation she returned to Magenta, opening a clinic the following year in Mesero, just a few miles north of her hometown. In 1952 she went to the University of Milan, about 25 miles east of Magenta where she specialized in pediatrics. She quickly earned her certificate and from that time on she dedicated her skills and gifts to serving mothers, babies, the elderly, and the poor.
Like her fellow countryman, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died just three years after she was born, Gianna loved the outdoors. She especially loved skiing and hiking in the mountains. Clearly possessing the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, she lived with a great zest, loving her fellowman passionately, enjoying all of creation in all of its beauty, whether it be in the hills or in the city caring for God’s children.
Even though she was a doctor with a thriving practice, she still grew in her love of serving the youth as she continued her ministry with Catholic Action. Meanwhile she prayed that God would guide her as she discerned her ultimate vocation — besides being a doctor. Was marriage in His plan for her? Once she had discerned it was God’s will, she embraced it with great enthusiasm, trusting that He would provide her with a good husband.
She met Pietro Molla in the early 1950s and when they became engaged she glowed with holy joy. She gave thanks to God for such a wonderful husband. On September 24, 1955, Pietro and Gianna were married in the Basilica of San Martino Vescovo in Magenta.
Pietro’s and Gianna’s happiness, so evident during their engagement, continued to grow as their married life began. She always thanked God for the many gifts He had bestowed on her. As a wife, Gianna continued to serve her community as she had before, and then their joy in life increased immeasurably when they welcomed their first child, Pierluigi, in November 1956. Their second child, Mariolina, followed in 1957.
Then Laura arrived in July 1959. With her unusual passion for life, Gianna coordinated and balanced her professional responsibilities with her family obligations. Her next pregnancy began in July 1961. Two months later, the first symptoms indicating that something was wrong manifested themselves, causing Gianna great pain and misery. The diagnosis brought sadness as they learned she had a fast growing fibroma lodged next to their fourth child in her uterus.
The doctor explained three options for treating the tumor. The first option he offered her was an abortion which would preserve the possibility of future pregnancies. Gianna and Pietro quickly refused the killing of their unborn child.
The second option was a hysterectomy to remove the deadly tumor with the consequence of indirectly taking the life of her child. Once again they quickly refused this option.
The third option meant a very risky surgery to remove the fibroma and continue the pregnancy. This would save the life of the child, but it would put Gianna’s life at risk.
For Pietro and Gianna there was only one option — the third one to save the life of their child. They prayed for a successful surgery, entrusting the outcome to divine Providence. The surgery went as planned and after she recovered, she returned to her work and family responsibilities.
As the baby continued to grow, Gianna’s main concern was that the baby would experience no pain during childbirth, begging God to prevent any pain to the baby. Before delivery she pleaded with her doctor, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child — I insist on it.”
Gianna Emmanuela was born on April 21, 1962. The doctors did all that they could to save the baby and preserve the life of the mother. For one more week St. Gianna suffered unspeakable pains while continually praising God, giving Him thanks and sighing, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.”
Gianna Emmanuela survived but on April 28, 1962, Gianna Beretta Molla entered eternity at the young age of 39.
During the International Year of the Family, Pope St. John Paul II beatified Gianna — on April 24, 1994. Ten years later her husband and four children were present at her canonization on May 16, 2004 — also by Pope St. John Paul II. Her feast is on April 28.
Dear St. Gianna, pray for us. Our world is a dangerous place for unborn children. Raise up good and faithful doctors, wives, and mothers who will protect the lives of the unborn. Instill in our nations a love and an appreciation for the sanctity of marriage and for children. May we pray for the preservation of all marriages! Help us loudly and clearly proclaim the truth when we hear others sow confusion. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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