Pope John Paul II has written that “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life and understands with unique intuition what is happening inside her.”
One modern example for us of motherhood is Dr. Gianna Beretta Molla. Dr. Molla was born in 1922 in Italy, and was the 10th of her parents’ 13 children. After her early studies, she graduated from the University of Milan with degrees in pediatrics and surgery. She wrote a small manual for doctors titled “The Beauty of Our Mission,” which called on medical professionals to see the significance and value of their vocation as physicians. She said, “We all serve in some way in the world at the service of humanity.” In addition to her medical studies and practice, she was a skilled pianist and an avid skier and mountaineer.
After her medical studies she met, fell in love with and soon married Pietro Molla. They both looked forward to starting their family, and they were blessed with four beautiful children.
While Dr. Molla was pregnant with her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, she was diagnosed with a large ovarian cyst which required surgery. Endangering herself, Dr. Molla insisted that the baby be protected at all costs. She said, “I have prayed so much these days. With faith and hope I have entrusted myself to the Lord. But now it is up to me to fulfill my duty as a mother. I am ready for everything in order to save the baby.” And immediately before the operation, she vehemently told the surgeon, “If you must decide between me and the baby, have no hesitation: choose — and I demand it — the baby, save her!” The surgery was successful but severely weakened Dr. Molla, so that shortly after childbirth, on April 28, 1962, she passed away.
Dr. Molla’s story has withstood the test of time, and she is regarded by many as a bright example of what it means to be a mother, wife, doctor and passionate lover of life. She once wrote: “Look at mothers who truly love their children: how many sacrifices they make for them. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood so that their babies grow up good, healthy and strong.”
On April 24, 1994, Pope John Paul II, recognizing the heroic sacrifice of Dr. Molla, made her a “blessed” in the church. On May 16, very near our American celebration of motherhood with its festivities, the pope declared Dr. Molla a saint.
At the canonization, the Holy Father said, “Following Christ, … this holy mother of a family was heroically faithful to the commitment she took on the day of her marriage.” He called Gianna Molla “a simple yet especially significant messenger of divine love,” and said of her, “The supreme sacrifice that sealed her life testifies that only the one who has the courage to give himself totally to God and to brothers fulfills himself.”
With the canonization, St. Gianna Molla now stands as a patron to mothers and as a supporter of wholesome and holy family life for us and for future generations. The pope concluded by saying, “May our age be able to discover, through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call!”
More information on St. Gianna can be found at www.gianna.org.
Jeff Kirby is a seminarian of the Diocese of Charleston studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.