By the Publisher
“Gianna was a lovely woman,” says her husband, Pietro Molla. “She was beautiful, intelligent and kind. She smiled often, was elegant and distinctly modern in her outlook. She loved to hike and ski, especially in the mountains. She loved flowers, music and theater.” Nothing out of the ordinary, we might say. But there was one thing: Gianna based her entire life on her faith.
She was born in 1922, in Magenta (Milan), the tenth in a family of thirteen children. She attended grammar school and went on to university, where she studied medicine. After becoming a surgeon, she specialized in pediatrics, and began to provide generous community service to women, children, the poor, and the needy. Already as a teenager she had engaged in apostolic work as a member of the Vincent de Paul Society. From her diary entries we can see how deep and pure her faith was: “O Jesus, I promise to bear patiently everything that You ordain me to bear. Let Your will be done in all things.” Perhaps already then, Gianna understood the full meaning of Christ’s words, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15 : 13).
Gianna compared her medical profession with priestly service: “We, physicians, touch Christ through our patients. Christ lives in every suffering person.”
Pietro Molla recalls: “From the moment I first set eyes on her, I wanted to stay with her for ever.” They were engaged in April of 1955, and married in September. Their life together was a happy one, filled with enjoyable work and numerous friendships. Their common interests united them. Every morning throughout the seven years of their life together, Gianna went to Holy Mass. She could not imagine herself without faith or prayer.
The couple was blessed with children. First they had three – a boy and two girls. After this Gianna suffered two miscarriages. Then, on becoming pregnant again, she discovered she had a malignant tumor (fibroma) in her uterus. To have it removed surgically would have meant losing the child and no longer being able to bear children. To keep the child was to run the risk of losing her own life during birth. As a physician, Gianna understood the full gravity of her situation; yet she did not hesitate in her choice. She believed, or at least tried to believe, that everything would turn out well in the end. Two weeks before giving birth she said to her husband: “If it is impossible to save both of us, and you have to choose, let them save the child, and not me. Do not hesitate for a moment. I insist upon it. Save the baby.” And to a friend, she confided: “I am lying in hospital and I am not sure that I will be returning home. I have had a difficult pregnancy. They tell me they can save only one of us; but I want the baby to live.”
Not wishing to worry her husband, Gianna tried to lead a normal life until the time of her confinement. “The only thing that troubled me” observed her husband, “was the quiet order she established day after day in every corner of our house. It was as though she were preparing for a long journey”.
On Good Friday of 1962, the labor contractions began. On Holy Saturday, April 21, a healthy baby girl – Gianna Emanuela – was born by Caesarian section.
Pietro Molla recalls the following day, Easter Sunday: “Gianna took the baby in her arms, kissed it, and gazed at it sadly. It was then that it hit me: she understood that the baby would have to live without a mother.” A week later, on the 28th of April, Gianna Beretta Molla died.
Pietro Molla is convinced that Gianna did not do this merely out of a desire to win a place in paradise, but because she felt herself to be a real mother. Gianna was deeply convinced that the child she carried in her womb enjoyed the same right to life as her other children.
Much has been said and debated on these events. The Church sees in Gianna’s heroic action on behalf of life as “an example applicable to our times,” when everything of value, both heavenly and earthly, is so readily trampled upon.
Gianna’s letter to Pietro on the eve of their engagement on 9 April 1955
My dear Pietro,
How can I thank you for this marvelous engagement ring? My darling Pietro! As a token of my gratitude, I give you the gift of my heart. I shall love you always as I love you now.
I think that on the eve of our engagement you will delight in my telling you that you are the dearest of all people to me. To you I constantly turn my thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. I look forward to the moment when I will be yours forever.
My darling Pietro! You know that I want to see you always happy, and to know that you are happy. Tell me how I must be, and what I must do, in order to achieve this? I place great trust in the Lord Jesus and am confident that He will help me be a worthy bride for you.
I often like to meditate on the fragment of Holy Scripture that is read during Holy Mass in honor of Saint Anne: “A good wife who can find?…The heart of her husband trusts in her…She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” etc. (Prov 31 : 10-31).
Pietro! I want to be like this steadfast woman from the Bible! But it seems to me that I am so weak. This means that I will need your support. With you I feel truly safe!
I beg this favor of you. From tomorrow on, Pietro, if you see me doing something wrong, tell me about it and correct me. Do you understand? I shall always be grateful to you for this.
My warmest embrace, with best wishes for a marvelous Easter.
Fragments of a letter by Pietro Molla to Gianna, written after she was declared a Venerable Servant of God. The letter appeared in the Italian periodical Terra Ambrosiana.
My darling Gianna!
Allow me to call you once more by your sweet name, without resorting to your title of “Venerable,” by which you ought now to be called.
I have been asked to say something about you for the good of the Church. Darling Gianna, you were a marvelous person. You were the “beloved of my heart…, in whom my soul delights” from the Song of Solomon. You were the happy and wise mother of our children. Whatever decision you made or whatever you did, you always sought out the will of God through prayer and the Eucharist.
Our time together on earth, our delight in one another on earth have long since passed, but we still feel that you are close to us, that you care about us from heaven. My beloved Gianna, it is thirty years since you were with us. How we miss the sweetness of your visible presence and your smile. Thirty years – much longer than our time spent together on earth! But though that time was brief, it was full of joy and tender love.
Our children, our “treasures” as you called them, have grown up and know very well what their mother was like. How many things, darling Gianna, you left behind to remind us of you! Your rosary and prayer books are relics for us, as are the pictures you drew of the Madonna, flowers, and landscapes… They tell us about your deep spiritual life, your delight in life, and your trust in God’s Providence.
I must confess, dear Gianna, that I found it hard to answer Bishop Carlo Columbo, when, in the spring of 1970, he asked me to agree to the process of your canonization. I very much wanted to keep our affairs, sufferings, and memories private. I feared the press and the publicity, and in a certain sense remained against the idea. I did not think I had observed signs of the supernatural in you.
But now I bend my knee before you, Venerable Servant of God. I beg you to intercede before Jesus and Mary on behalf of our children, our dear granddaughter Hortensia (who would now be calling you “grandmother”), for myself, for all those whom you knew, and also for all those who trust in your intercession.
God has allowed me a long life and many graces. When He calls me to Himself, I beg you, my darling Gianna, Venerable Servant of God, present me to Him, the Father of Mercy, and ask Him to show me His boundless Love as well – a Love, for which you lived, and to which you gave witness with your life.
Gianna Molla was canonized by John Paul II on 16 May, 2004
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010