The voters chose as the 48th selection Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian wife, mother and physician who crusaded for the cause of pro-life long before Roe vs. Wade. Her selection came from those in the know for the pro-life cause for Blessed Gianna is fast becoming known as the intercessor for the unborn. The following profile, because of its excellence and capturing the essense of this future modern saint, we have kept in tact as written on March 11, 1986 in L'Osservatore Romano by Fernando Da Riese Pio X entitled "A Mother who sacrificed her life for her unborn child - Gianna Beretta Molla: As a mother she lived the priesthood of the laity. For more on this fascinating woman, we refer you to the official website for Blessed Gianna at www.gianna.org.
The life of Gianna Beretta Molla is a series of fascinating events, so
fascinating in fact that most readers who come to know her only
through her biography edited by Orizzonte medico, Citta Nuova,
published by the Daughters of St. Paul, are under the impression the
Gianna is more of a legendary figure than a historical person.
Gianna, however, was a real person; she lived and worked in a
concrete geographical setting, the Lombardy plain (Italy), between
the years 1922-1962.
Born at Magenta, on 4 October 19922, she had her primary
education at Bergamo and attended Grammar school on the Ligurian
Riviera (at Genoa-Quinto al Mare and Albaro).She then attended
university courses in Milan and Pavia, reading medicine and
surgery. She obtained her doctorate on 30 November 1949 and
was nationally registered as a medical doctor. She ran her own
surgery at Mesero, where she practiced her profession until death
in a generous service to children - she had specialized as a
pediatrician - and to old people.
Gianna is remembered as a truly fulfilled, authentic woman, by those
who knew her. Just a little sketch of her character and her
interests. Gianna love mountaineering and was actually an expert in
rock-climbing on the Alps; in winter she was a good skier on the
snow fields. She had a deep interest in traveling, in a desire to
know people and countries. She loved culture and artistic
expressions, with a particular bent for music and painting. She
could play the piano and loved to go to concerts and to the theater.
When on her journeys, she would bring with her brushes and paints
and fix on canvas landscapes and Madonna figures. She led with
her personality, with her delightful smile, with her strong
convictions. Her life was an uninhabited synthesis of faith and
culture which exercised a powerful influence on those who came
into contact with her.
Her most noble passion, however, that which sublimated her life,
was to love God in people and to serve them for the love of God.
While a university student, residing at Magenta, she was active in
Catholic Action. in which she also held posts of responsibility. She
held meetings and gave talks, awakening in young people the desire
and the commitment to live for Christ and for the Church. She drew
some Catholics Action members into the St. Vincent de Paul's
Conference, with the aim of training them to help the poor, the sick,
to offer a smile and a helping hand to elderly people who lived alone
in the scattered country houses of the Magenta countryside.
Gianna had dreamed of offering her services, in her capacity of
medical doctor and surgeon, as a lay missionary in Brazil, to help her
Capuchin brother, Father Alberto Beretta, himself a doctor and director
of a hospital in the Maranhao region. God, however, wanted her as
a missionary in her own family, at the service of life.
On 24 September 1955, she married engineer Pietro Molla, industrial
director of the Saffa of Milan, and transferred to Ponte Nuovo di
Gianna, now Mrs. Molla, wanted children to whom to give herself as
a mother. She did have three, a boy and two girls, all lovely and
happy children. She was very fond of them and would give herself
totally, transmitting her joy, her sense of purpose in life, her Christian
faith in a concrete way. After two months of a new pregnancy,
she was affected by a large fibroma in the womb.
As a doctor, Gianna was fully aware of the seriousness of her
case and consciously faced the dilemma whether to save her own
life or that of her baby in the womb. Her Christian faith, which she
had imbibed in her own large family (she was the tenth of thirteen
children, among whom two priests and a nun) decided her choice:
to sacrifice herself to save her child. This Gianna asked of her
husband, this she demanded of the doctors, before submitting
herself to an operation, at the Monza hospital, to remove the
fibroma. Her often repeated plea was unmistakably clear: "save my
Abortion was proposed to her as the speediest and surest means
of dealing with the fibroma. She rejected it absolutely , recalling
God's commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." She thus bore witness to
her faith and obedience to the Christian principle: "It is a sin to kill in
the womb". Repeatedly she declared: "I'm ready for everything, so
long as my baby can be saved." Her "readiness for everything"
was based exclusively on God: only in Him did she find the strength
to carry out her decision to the end. She prayed over it with faith
and perseverance and insistently asked friends for prayers, that
she might be able to say "yes" to life.
With these precise dispositions she underwent surgery on 6
September 1961, and then, with courage and deep trust in God, she
continued her pregnancy, living in a state of continuous risk for
seven months. She had the joy of giving to her husband, her family,
and to the world, a new infant life, little Giannina, on 21 April 1962,
which by a happy coincidence happened to be Holy Saturday.
Seven days later, 28 April, Gianna died at the age of thirty-nine, a
martyr of a mother's love.
On Sunday 23 September 1973, Pope Paul VI, during the Angelus
Message, recalled this extraordinary gesture of "a mother of the
Diocese of Milan who in order to give life to her baby, sacrificed her
own life in deliberate immolation". In a moving tone he pointed her
out as an example to a world which is too ready to kill.
With a petition dated Rho (Milan) 11 April 1978 and signed by
Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, Archbishop of Milan, and by 16 bishops,
the Lombardy Episcopal Conference asked for the opening of the
cause of beatification of this wife and mother, declaring her to be
"an example fully relevant to our times in which the right to life is
often disregarded and trampled upon".
The Conference of Bishops went on: "This mother is a martyr and
has given a sublime example of Christian heroism. For the love of
God and in obedience to his commandment that forbids to kill, she
has paid deep respect to life, which is always a gift of God to men,
and has sacrificed her own young life to say ‘yes' to the Christian
law of love. It is the shining example of this woman - a wife and a
mother - which we archbishops and bishops of the Lombardy
region, would like, also in the name of our faithful, to propose today
to the entire Church and to society in which, through selfishness
and violence, it has become all too easy to kill, whether it is done in
an open or in a hidden way. In this world of ours which is moving
towards the legalization of abortion, the Servant of God Gianna
Beretta Molla becomes a courageous example of Christian
The bishops of the Lombardy Episcopal Conference further state:
"This example of lay sanctity, lived out in the marriage state as
taught by Vatican II, will act as an encouragement for many
Christians to seek God in their married life. They may be inspired by
her and pray to her... Her conscious sacrifice may throw light on the
importance of the Christian family, Catholic schools, the Catholic
Action for the formation of the Christian personality. It is in
institutions such as these that the young Christian imbibes those
Christian principles that will give a direction to his or her life and to
which he or she will subordinate life itself, as Dr. Beretta has done
with full awareness".
"Truly, heroism in Christian life is like a flower which rises at the top
of a stem whose nature God alone knows perfectly, but which
nevertheless makes us understand that every Christian vocation
lived out according to God has an influence on the whole Church".
To show this, Pope John Paul II, on 15 March 1980, signed the
introduction of the beatification cause for this wife and mother who,
always wearing her most welcoming smile, built to her life on the
gospel, placing herself at the service of all. Her smile witnessed to
the civilization of love. The inquiry into the heroicity of her life will
close in Milan on 21 March: the documentation will then be sent to
Rome to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
As Jesus said: "There is no greater love than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friend" (John 15:13).
The Servant of God, Gianna Beretta, is a call to love. She
transmitted it, as a doctor, to numerous mothers in difficult
pregnancies: she proclaimed it loudly, by the convincing power of
her sacrifice, to our world concerned with progress and "quality of
life" as it approaches the year 2000. Our time is affected by
deep-seated ills: by selfishness and violence whereby it has
become all too easy to kill: in homes, in the streets, in the football
stadium and in the womb. Gianna is to be seen as a sign of the
times to protect, welcome and respect life.
As a follow-up to Francisco's article in 1986, we have these words from another writer Joseph W. Cunningham who contacted Gianna's widowed husband Pietro a few years ago and wrote:
Recently, I telephoned Pietro Molla, eighty-six year old husband of
Blessed Gianna, to gain insights into her character. In seven years
he lived with her, laughed Pietro, he "never realized he had been living
with a saint!" Often we think of saints as having mystical visions and
extraordinary graces. Blessed Gianna had no visions, but strove to
live God's will in her everyday life – the "ordinary" way to holiness.
When the children were young, Pietro told them they could pray to
their deceased mother for help. When she was beatified in 1994 by
Pope John Paul II, the Church ratified Pietro's trust.
In his beatification address, the Pope said that since Gianna had been
a surgeon, she was well aware of the suffering confronting her in
not having the operation to remove an ovarian cyst. She did not avoid
the sacrifice, confirming the heroism of her virtue. Pietro recalls her
saying, "One cannot love without suffering, or suffer without love."
In a 1995 address, John Paul also offered her as a model for the
pro-life movement and a sign of contradiction to the "culture of
death". "What a heroic witness is her true chant for life, in violent
contrast with a certain mentality pervasive today. May her sacrifice
infuse courage…in the movement for life and in similar organizations
so that the intangible dignity of every human existence be recognized,
from the moment of conception up to natural decline..."
Blessed Gianna Molla was beatified in the Year of the Family. The
society promoting her cause thus offers her as an advocate for
mothers and souses, as well as for health care workers and
professional women. Pietro Molla says that many mothers have
turned to Gianna for help. Many people have credited her with
physical cures, tranquility of spirit and peace in their families.
As a protector of mothers, it seems no coincidence that one of the
miracles attributed to her intercession was the recovery of one Lucia
Cirilo of Brazil from a grave infection after a caesarian section
From all we have read about this inspiring woman, she is truly one who can be considered the patron saint of the unborn and pregnant mothers and an ideal role model for all gynecologists today and the standard bearer in Heaven for the Sanctity of Life.