If there’s one thing I’ve learned
about being a mom, it’s that it’s not
always easy. And that while we relish
the tender moments, sometimes it
involves making tough choices.
Enter St. Gianna Beretta Molla—
pediatrician, wife, mother, saint.
A Holy–and Normal–Life
Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta
(near Milan) in Italy, on October 4,
1922, the 10th of 13 children born to
Alberto and Maria Beretta. Her parents
instilled in their children a deep faith.
In fact, two of Gianna’s brothers became
priests and one of her sisters
became a nun. And while Gianna was
a very pious child and considered a
religious vocation, her holiness would
be found as a working mom.
Gianna found her life’s calling in
medicine. She earned degrees in medicine
and surgery from the University
of Pavia in 1949, and opened a medical
clinic in Mesero a year later.
In 1955, Gianna married Peter Molla.
They subsequently had three children,
Pierluigi, Maria Zita and Laura.
During her pregnancy with her fourth
child, however, Gianna’s doctors discovered
she had a tumor in her uterus.
They encouraged her to terminate the
pregnancy and undergo a complete hysterectomy.
Gianna refused, but did allow
surgery to remove the growth—fully
aware of the danger that continuing the
Prior to the surgery, Gianna told a
priest, “I have entrusted myself to the
Lord in faith and hope, against the terrible
advice of medical science, ‘Either
mother or child.’ I trust in God, yes, but
now I must fulfill my duty as a mother.
I renew the offer of my life to the Lord.
I am ready for everything, provided
the life of my child is saved.”
In the final weeks of her pregnancy,
she reiterated that if a decision had to
be made between her and her child’s
life, they should save the child. On April
21, Gianna gave birth to her fourth
child—daughter Gianna Emanuela.
Seven days later the mother died of
complications from the birth.
October 4, 1922 Born in Magenta, Italy
1952 Became a pediatric specialist
December 8, 1954 Met Peter Molla at a friend’s first Mass
April 28, 1962 Died at the age of 39
May 16, 2004 Canonized by Pope John Paul II
One of the stumbling blocks I have
often had with many saints is that they
seem so distant. Their lives and circumstances
could not be any further
from my own. But that’s not the case
with St. Gianna.
In fact, as I look at photos of St.
Gianna with her children, I am reminded
of the personal pictures that
crowd my home and office. I look at
the snapshots of her holding one of
her children, their faces pressed close
together, and I see myself and my children.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla provides us
moms with a great example of how
sometimes the path to holiness lies in
performing life’s ordinary tasks and
facing its challenges in an extraordinary
way. In short, she gives us hope
that even saints can smell like spit-up,
have to referee sibling squabbles and try
to juggle home life and work. And that
sometimes through our own sacrifices,
we provide the greatest opportunities
for our children. Case in point—her
daughter Gianna Emanuela is now a
Yes, thanks to St. Gianna Beretta
Molla, I have someone I can pray
to...mom to mom.
Next: Giuseppe Moscati