Feast day April 28
St. Gianna’s husband is famous for having been the only man in history to have been able to legitimately say, “My wife is a saint.” He was alive and present during her canonization ceremony, along with three of their children.
Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (Milan), Italy on October 4, 1922. Already as a youth she willingly accepted the gift of faith and the clearly Christian education that she received from her excellent parents. As a result, she experienced life as a marvelous gift from God, had a strong faith in Providence and was convinced of the necessity and effectiveness of prayer.
The Saintly Pediatrician
She diligently dedicated herself to studies during the years of her secondary and university education, while, at the same time, applying her faith through generous service among the youth of Catholic Action and charitable work among the elderly and needy as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After earning degrees in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia in 1949, she opened a medical clinic in Mesero (near Magenta) in 1950. She specialized in Pediatrics at the University of Milan in 1952 and thereafter gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and poor.
While working in the field of medicine-which she considered a “mission” and practiced as such-she increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the “very young” and, at the same time, expressed her joie de vivre and love of creation through skiing and mountaineering. Through her prayers and those of others, she reflected upon her vocation, which she also considered a gift from God. Having chosen the vocation of marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself “to forming a truly Christian family”.
Marriage and Motherhood
She became engaged to Pietro Molla and was radiant with joy and happiness during the time of their engagement, for which she thanked and praised the Lord. They were married on September 24, 1955, in the Basilica of St. Martin in Magenta, and she became a happy wife. In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of her son Pierluigi, in December 1957 of her daughter Mariolina; in July 1959 of her daughter Laura. With simplicity and balance, she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life.
In September 1961 towards the end of the second month of another pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and the mystery of pain; she had developed a tumor in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. She spent the seven months remaining until the birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in pain, and she asked God to prevent that.
A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: “If you must decided between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save him.” She chose not to have a hysterectomy, knowing that the procedure would have taken the baby’s life. On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of April 28, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you,” the mother died. She was 39 years old. Her funeral was an occasion of profound grief, faith and prayer.
Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, during the international Year of the Family.
The miracle needed for her canonization was recognized formally December 20. In 2003, Elisabeth Comparini Arcolino, a mother of three, was 16 weeks pregnant with her fourth child when she sustained a tear in the placenta, resulting in the loss of her amniotic fluid. She was told the baby’s chances of survival were nil. By divine providence, Bishop Diogenes Silva Matthes of Franca, Brazil, was visiting a friend at the hospital. After being summoned to Arcolino’s room, Arcolino told him the doctor had advised her to have an abortion.
“You don’t kill life inside the mother,” the bishop told her. “This is the time for Saint Gianna Beretta Molla to intercede for the life you are carrying.” At home the bishop began praying, “The time for your canonization has arrived. Intercede to the Lord for the grace of a miracle and save the life of this little baby.”
Despite the lack of amniotic fluid, Elisabeth delivered a healthy baby girl, Gianna Maria, by Caesarean section on May 31, 2000. The entire Arcolino family was present for the canonization.
The evening before the canonization, pilgrims from all over the world gathered in the Vatican Gardens to pray the rosary in thanksgiving for Gianna Beretta Molla’s canonization. The following morning in St Peter’s Square in front of over 100,000 of the faithful, Pope John Paul II canonized Gianna Beretta Molla and 5 additional saints. In attendance was Gianna’s 91 year old husband, her 3 children, her granddaughter, her living siblings, medical patients of Gianna, friends, etc. The Holy Sea paid particular attention to the frail Pietro.
On Monday morning, the first mass of the new saint was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Paul, outside the walls followed by an audience with Pope John Paul II in St Peter’s Square.
St. Gianna, pray for all mothers and physicians – that God’s grace would strengthen them to witness to the preciousness of life in every decision they make.