I had never heard of Saint Gianna Molla before September 2007. This was the month my friend Erika gave birth to her first daughter, Gianna Rose. Erika and her husband, Dan, decided to name their daughter Gianna after the great modern saint – Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. A few days after giving birth, Erika explained to me briefly the story about Saint Gianna. I was extremely moved by the heroic virtue of this Italian woman. After speaking with Erika, I decided to look up some information about Saint Gianna on the Internet. When I arrived at the Franciscan University of Steubenville for graduate school in August 2008, one of the first individuals I met on campus was a Franciscan sister by the name of Sister Gianna Marie. Her religious name comes from this Italian saint. I think Our Lord was directing me towards St. Gianna for some reason. While at graduate school, I wrote a paper on her life for my Historical Foundations course. Being that tomorrow is St. Gianna Berretta Molla’s Feast Day in the Church, I wanted to write about her life a bit since it has been my experience that many people have never heard of her before.
For those that are in the trenches of the Pro-Life Movement, she is an outstanding example of the pro-life woman as well as a catholic saint who will pray for the us, since she gave her life up for her fourth child instead of having an abortion as her doctors suggested. Being a doctor herself she was fully aware of the dangers on her life, but chose the child’s life over her own. She said if it comes down to saving a life, save the child’s life before mine. After giving birth to her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, she had an attack and went into a coma; however, she did come out of it. After awaking from the first coma, the second she would never awake, she said to her husband, “Pietro, I was already there and do you know what I saw?…they sent me down here, to suffer still, because it is not right to come to the Lord without enough suffering.” A few days after giving birth to their fourth child, she passed into eternal glory.
St. Gianna along with her husband, Pietro, are exceptional examples of friendship, self-sacrificial love and holiness. In an age that seeks to destroy sacrificial love and the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman, this couple is a shining light of God’s grace and holiness that everyone, either married or single, should see as the perfect example of what it is to love another before yourself. During the courtship/dating period, they wrote love letters back and forth to one another. This is a form of self-expression that has been lost in the modern age of communication. It’s so easy to either email or text someone. Sitting down and actually writing a HAND-written love letter, not typed, seems as foreign as the great black and white films of old. Below are some excerpts of their expressions of love for each other:
“I saw Gianna for the first time in 1950 (later he would say he remembers meeting her in 1949)…I was attracted to her…At dinner we sat opposite of each other…from then on, I managed to find opportunities for us to meet.”
“I found her an extraordinarily transparent person, extraordinarily gracious. Her looks, her attitude, her eyes, her beauty made her very attractive. I understood that she was right for me that I would like to be with her. So, I had fallen in love, but I did not find words to express my feelings. Thank God, Gianna was more effusive, more open.”
In her first letter, she said, “I want to make you happy and be what you desire: kind, understanding, and ready for the sacrifices that life will require…Now you are here whom I love, and I intend to give myself to you, to form a truly Christian family.”
Pietro’s response back to her is just as beautiful and engaging. He states, “I have read your letter many times and I have kissed it…I love you, my sweet Gianna…My heart is yours and I want to form my family with you.”
After more letters that are as spectacular as the ones I have quoted; they were married on September 24, 1955. They knelt together before God promising to remain faithful and love each one another “for better or worse.” Vows that would come to fruition very soon.
Now that I have given a glimpse of this wonderful modern saint, I challenge you to go and read more about her life. There are two great books on her life I recommend – Saint Gianna Molla – Wife, Mother, Doctor by Pietro Molla & Elio Gurriero and Saint Gianna Beretta Molla by Giuliana Pelucchi. I would also recommend the website – The Society of St. Gianna Beretta Molla.
As I conclude this blog post, I leave with you the words of Blessed John Paul II on the day of St. Gianna’s Canonization on May 16, 2004 –
“Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: “Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women”.
Following the example of Christ, who “having loved his own…loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of ourselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves. Through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, may our age rediscover the pure, chaste, and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call!”
St. Gianna Beretta Molla…Pray for Us!