St. Gianna Beretta Molla: Biography, Miracles & Quotes

Instructor: Katie Streit

Katie has a PhD in History. She has taught middle school English and college History.

In this lesson, we will learn about St. Gianna Beretta Molla - a wife, mother, and physician who sacrificed her life for the sake of her unborn child. We will also explore her pathway to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Unconditional Love

How do you show someone that you love them? Perhaps the ultimate way is by sacrificing your life to save another. St. Gianna Beretta Molla did just that when she chose to risk her life in order to give birth to her fourth child. In this lesson, we will learn more about St. Gianna Beretta Morella - her life, sacrifice, and the miracles attributed to her that resulted in her sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church.

Physician, Wife, and Mother

St. Gianna Beretta Molla was born in Magenta, Italy on October 4, 1922. As the tenth of thirteen children, Gianna was raised as a Roman Catholic. She earned a degree in medicine and surgery in November 1949. She opened a medical office in Mesero in July 1950 and specialized in pediatrics in July 1952.

While working as a physician, Gianna also served as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Action. Catholic Action is a movement that strives to motivate the Catholic laity (those who are not ordained ministers or priests) to 'uphold and defend Christian values inspired by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.'

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Gianna married Pietor Molla in September 1955 at the age of 33. They had their first child (Pierluigi) in November 1956. Then followed Maria Zita (December 1957) and Laura (July 1959). Gianna continued to work as a physician while raising her children.

An Unimaginable Decision

During the second month of Giana's fourth pregnancy, she developed a severe pain. The doctors determined that she had a fibroid tumor in her uterus. While the tumor was benign, its size threatened the life of the child. Gianna had to choose between three options:

  • Hysterectomy - save her life, meaning no more children in the future and the death of the baby
  • Abortion - save her life, meaning more children in the future but the death of the baby
  • Removal of the fibroid - continuation of the pregnancy, though the operation could harm the fetus and/or result in further complications that could lead to Gianna's death

Stained-glass depiction of St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Despite being well aware of the risks, Gianna chose the third option for the sake of her unborn child. She believed in the Catholic teaching that an unborn baby has a fundamental right to life from the moment of conception. Before the operation, Gianna asked the surgeon to save her child's life over her own. She stated, 'I trust in God, yes; but now it is up to me to fulfill my duty as a mother. I renew to the Lord the offer of my life. I am ready for everything, to save my baby.'

Both mother and baby survived the operation in September 1961, but complications occurred throughout the remainder of the pregnancy. Just a few days before the baby's delivery, Gianna once again told her husband, 'If you have to decide between me and the child, do not hesitate; I demand it, the child, save it.' Gianna gave birth to Gianna Emanuela on April 21, 1962 by cesarean section. A week later, St. Gianna Beretta Molla died of septic peritonitis at the age of 39.

Path to Sainthood

There are several stages before a person can become canonized as a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints first investigates if the individual's life was sufficiently holy or virtuous. If so, the individual is called a 'Servant of God.' The Congregation then determines if the person lived a life of 'heroic virtue.' If the Congregation and Pope believe so, the person becomes 'Venerable.'

Saints of the Roman Catholic Church

Beatification is the next step. To be named 'Blessed' most often requires that a miracle be attributed to the individual after his or her death. The miracle is the result of prayers made to the individual, who interceded with God. Canonization as a 'Saint' requires a second miracle after beatification. Both miracles must be verified through church investigations.

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