Saint Gianna Beretta Molla
By Fr. Tom Rosica
On Sunday, May 16, 2004, Pope John Paul II canonized Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, a wife, mother and pediatrician. Gianna's story is rather extraordinary, especially since her husband and children are still alive. There is a special Canadian and Basilian connection to Gianna's story through the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto.
Mr. Pietro Molla, husband of Saint Gianna, invited me to serve on the Canonization Committee last year, and then asked Salt+Light Television Network in Toronto to produce the formal documentary on Saint Gianna Molla that will be presented on the eve of her canonization in Rome. Salt+Light Television was granted the exclusive rights to interview the saint's family, to have access to all family movies, documents, and photos earlier this year. The documentary, entitled Love is a Choice, is in its final stages of editing and will air on Canadian Catholic television in May 2004.
Mother, doctor, and lover of life
Gianna Beretta Molla was born in Magenta (Milan), Italy, on October 4, 1922, the 10th of 13 children. 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 the poor. While working in the field of medicine-which she considered a "mission" and practised as such - she increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the "very young." She became engaged to Pietro Molla and they were married on September 24, 1955 in St. Martin's Basilica in Magenta. In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi; in December 1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. She met the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life with simplicity and great balance.
In September 1961, towards the end of the second month of pregnancy with her fourth child, Gianna had to make a heroic decision. Physicians diagnosed a serious fibroma in the uterus that required surgery. The surgeon suggested that Gianna undergo an abortion in order to save her own life. A few days before the child was due, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate. Choose the child - I insist on it. Save the baby."
On the morning of April 21, 1962, her daughter 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 husband Pietro has described Gianna's life as "an act and a perennial action of faith and charity; it was a non-stop search for the will of God for every decision and for every work, with prayer and meditation, Holy Mass and the Eucharist."
On April 24, 1994, Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna Beretta Molla, mother of a family, in St. Peter's Square in Rome. The Pope said that her witness was a hymn to life. At the beatification ceremony, the Holy Father said that Gianna's action for life was possible only after a life of preparation.
St. Gianna Molla continues to remind the Church and the world of the necessity of a consistent ethic of life, from the earliest moments to the final moments of human life. We are being called to heroism by our choice of life. Let us ask St. Gianna to give us the courage to take the next step.
The Newman Centre of Toronto
On the Feast of All Saints on the eve of the Great Jubilee in 1999, a stained glass window of Blessed Gianna Molla was installed in the chapel of the Newman Centre of Toronto. The window was unveiled by Pierluigi Molla and Gianna Emmanuela Molla, son and daughter of the Blessed.
Text of Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla:
I am very honoured and moved to be here today with all of you and I thank Fr. Thomas Rosica with all my heart, and his staff, the parishioners and friends of the Newman Centre who are present at this important ceremony. Three days ago, when Padre Tom showed me the church windows for the first time and I saw my mother smiling, I was filled with joy and so pleased, because I have always imagined her in this way, knowing that the message of her life couldn't be represented better.
Every moment of her entire existence was a real testimony of Christian love and faith, lived concretely and with joy in everyday life: as a young girl, as a fiancée and wife, as a mother and doctor. She always trusted in Divine Providence and she has crowned her exemplary life in the name of a love without measure. She is always with me and since the momentous day of April 24, 1994, I have felt myself to be part of an ever growing family comprised of so many people throughout the world who, like me, pray to her, confide in her, and feel close to her. I believe that this is also the design of Divine Providence, that now I shall never be alone.
Dear Mom, I ask you to fill me and all those who suffer and are in difficulty with your own strength of soul, your hope, your courage to live life to the full. Protect and help all mothers, their families and all who turn to you and entrust their needs to you. I now invite you to pray with me the prayer to my mother:
God, you who are Father, we give you praise
and we bless you
because in Gianna Beretta Molla
You have given and have made known a woman
who witnessed the Gospel
As a young person, as a bride, as a mother and a doctor.
We thank you because through the gift of her life
[my mother's life],
We learn to accept and honor every human being.
You, Lord Jesus, were for her privileged reference;
She was able to know you in the beauty of nature.
As she questioned her choice of life she was in search of You
and of the best way to serve You.
Through her married love she became a sign of your love
for the Church and for humanity;
Like you, Good Samaritan,
she stopped at the side of every sick person, small and weak;
After your example and for love,
she gave herself entirely, generating new life.
Holy Spirit, font of every perfection,
Give also to us wisdom, intelligence, and courage
after the example of Gianna [my mother],
and through her intercession,
In her personal, family, and professional life,
we are able to put ourselves at the service of every person
and grow in this way in love and in holiness.
Text of Mr. Pierluigi Molla:
I am deeply grateful to Fr. Thomas Rosica and the Newman Centre of Toronto and would like to express my gratitude for three reasons:
.for having chosen the beautiful and endearing image of my mother, now Blessed, to be among "this cloud of witnesses" of holy ones of this century, particularly in the company of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Brother André, Franz Jägerstätter, Archbishop Romero, and Georges and Pauline Vanier; as well as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta [whose images appear in the
Newman Centre windows].
.for the welcome invitation to participate in this most beautiful ceremony of blessing and dedication;
.and for his most cordial visit to our home in Milan several weeks ago on September 26.
Accompanying my thanks is the gratitude of my father, Pietro, and that of my sisters Laura and Gianna Emanuela, who is here with me; our aunts and uncles - brothers and sisters of our mother, Fr. Alberto, a Capuchin who was a missionary in Brazil, Monsignor Giuseppe Beretta, Mother Virginia of the Cannosiana Sisters, and Zita. You must also know of the gratitude of my wife Lisi who is here present with me.
Already in March 1986, the witness and message of my mother had spread to Newfoundland, where the Natural Family Planning Association had printed in a newsletter a brief biographical profile of mom, entitled "A Portrait of Love." In December 1990, in the city of Vancouver, Gianna House, a pro-life support centre, was opened for women. We were touched and consoled to know of the richness of the witness and message of my mother, even before the cause for her beatification was concluded. Then almost six years ago, in December 1993, with great joy we were very moved that the Friends of Gianna Society had begun in Vancouver. In February 1997, we were again deeply touched to read in the Family Life section of the weekly BC Catholic, a beautiful article by Marie Luttrell, entitled "For Courage, Faith and Humility"- an article which focused on the roots of the choices and the exemplary life of my mother.
On April 24, 1994, in St. Peter's Square in Rome, His Holiness Pope John Paul II proclaimed Gianna Beretta Molla, Mother of a Family, "Blessed." From that moment onward until today, the number of friends of my mother in Canada has grown to be so many. Today we have the honour of seeing my mother honored by all those present, especially by so many young people and all of those who minister to them at the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto. This Centre truly represents what my mother lived for and died for: Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Life.
There are three reasons why I think it is so important to have the image of my mother placed in the chapel of the Newman Centre:
First, the witness of my mother was a hymn to life, to a love for life, and the beautiful things of life; it was a hymn to a faith lived with joy and nourished by the Eucharist and by prayer. Even in her medical profession, she knew how to see Jesus in her neighbour whom she loved and served with such great generosity.
Second, my mother knew how to live her earthly, daily existence with simplicity, balance, and constant service, all in a beautiful harmony, first as a young student and professional person, as a woman, then as wife and mother. Her generous commitment to and involvement in the Catholic Action and to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, along with her joie de vivre, was crowned with her love of piano, painting, tennis, mountain climbing, skiing, the symphony, theatre, and traveling.
Third, even in her earliest youth, my mother fully accepted the gift of faith and an explicitly Christian education received from her excellent parents who, in their vigilant wisdom, knew how to accompany her in her human and Christian growth. Whether it was in her youth, in primary school, in her secondary education, or in her university courses in medical school, Gianna received from exemplary priests, religious, and from wise professors, a pedagogical formation that was clearly in harmony with Cardinal John Henry Newman's idea of a university in which theology, the arts, and sciences would be taught in dialogue with one another.
In her daily living, my mother was faithful to the pedagogical formation that she received and she knew how to transpose that formation into a joyful living of the Gospel, all the while being a brilliant example of true love and respect for life, even to the summit of the love that Jesus teaches in the Gospel: laying down one's life for one's friends.
On April 25, 1994, the day after the Beatification, His Holiness Pope John Paul II in his address to an audience of pilgrims who had come to the ceremony, defined the life of my mother with these words: "What a heroic testimony her life was. a true hymn to life!" I firmly believe that today, the hymn of my mother's life has joyously resounded in the Newman Centre to pay honour to the life and witness of Cardinal John Henry Newman and to exemplify so beautifully the prophetic value and the full actualization of his ideas and desires for a strong commitment of lay people in the Church and the mutual dialogue between theology, the arts, and sciences.
Once again, my most profound gratitude to Fr. Thomas Rosica and all those here present.