“Whatever God wants.”
-Saint Gianna Molla
If you haven’t heard Gianna’s story yet, she’s definitely worth learning about. Saint Gianna Molla is one of the greatest modern-day saints we have, and a beautiful example of living a holy life as a layperson, a wife, a mother, and a courageous apostle of life.
This incredible saint was born under the name Gianna Beretta, in the city of Milan, on October 4, 1922. Even from an early age, Gianna was a living example of holiness in her daily life. Throughout her youth and young adulthood, Gianna embraced the Catholic faith that her parents passed on to her. She was also a hard worker, focusing on her studies to become a doctor, and earning degrees in Medicine and Surgery. Her hard work and zeal paid off: in 1950 she opened her own medical clinic, where she specialized in pediatrics. To Gianna, medical work was more than a job— it was a mission, to serve those who were most in need of help. This mission carried over into her volunteer work with the organization Catholic Action, where she reached out especially to young children and youth.
This missionary zeal also carried on into her personal life, as she married Pietro Molla in 1955 and began to raise a family. In the following years, Gianna and her husband welcomed two children, Pierluigi and Laura.
In 1961, the young family looked forward to welcoming their third child, when God suddenly challenged Gianna to take the next step in her already holy and virtuous life. Early on in the pregnancy, Gianna learned that a fibroma had developed in her uterus, which endangered her life as well as her unborn child’s.
Gianna found herself with a choice to make. The doctors told her that she could have an abortion, receive a hysterectomy (in which Gianna’s uterus would be removed and the child would ultimately die), or she could surgically have the fibroma removed. This last option would save her child’s life, but it was understood there may be further complications and problems if she chose this path.
A choice like this is certainly never easy. In Catholic Church teaching, one life can never be eliminated for the advantage or convenience of another. However, in Gianna’s case, there was no guaranteed means of saving both Gianna and her child. In such a case, the Church would still forbid an abortion, which would be a direct killing of the child, but would allow other options. In the case of a hysterectomy, the child would die as an unintended side-effect, but not as a direct intention of the procedure. For this reason, a hysterectomy would have been an acceptable choice. However, Gianna instead chose to have a surgery removing the fibroma, knowing full well the potential risks to her own health.
As it came time for the surgery, Gianna made it very clear that she wanted to save her baby’s life at all costs. If it came down to choosing between her baby and herself, she told her husband, “I want them to save my baby”. In the end, this is precisely what happened. Gianna successfully delivered her third child, Gianna Emanuela, on Good Friday of 1962, but the complications of the pregnancy led to her death only a week later.
Saint Gianna: A Pro-Life Hero
Gianna’s choice and her unwavering determination are truly astounding. If Gianna had thought that dying for her child was her only option, she would simply be a good person doing her duty. To do what is right is certainly noble, but what really makes Gianna a hero is the fact that she went above and beyond mere duty. When faced with the choice between losing her child’s life and risking her own, she chose, out of her own free will, to save her baby. Gianna dared to make a difficult and selfless choice, one that did ultimately cost her life. In this way, Gianna became a sort of martyr for life. For her virtues, the Church canonized Gianna as a saint in May 2004.
Gianna’s fortitude and selflessness represent what the pro-life movement truly is about. Human life is the greatest gift God has ever given. To protect it at all costs is the ultimate sign of love, not only to that human life, but the One Who gives it. This is why Gianna is such an excellent model for all of us who must make difficult decisions, especially when we decide to stand for life, however difficult this may be.
Saint Gianna, pray for us!