Editor’s note: This is part of a series for Lent.
The teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church can sometimes seem abstract and removed from our lives. The questions surrounding human life, women’s issues, parenthood, and sexuality are all areas where church teaching seems disconnected with everyday events.
The lives of the saints, however, show us that church teaching can give order and meaning to our daily decisions. They can edify and bring out the best in our lives if we are willing to make an act of faith and let God’s grace work.
One modern example for us in the realms of human life and 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 entitled “The Beauty of Our Mission,” which called on medical professionals to see the significance and value of their vocation as physicians. 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 were blessed with four beautiful children.
Dr. Molla was diagnosed with a large ovarian cyst, which required surgery, while she was pregnant with her fourth child. Endangering herself, she 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.”
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 Lord Jesus teaches: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6).
Dr. Molla understood this truth. She 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.”
The surgery was successful, but Dr. Molla was severely weakened. Shortly after childbirth, on April 28, 1962, she passed away.
On May 16, 2004, Pope John Paul II, recognizing her heroic sacrifice, declared Dr. Gianna Beretta 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 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 herself.”
St. Gianna’s daughter, who was born through her mother’s sacrifice, presented the pope with the relics of her mother at the canonization Mass.
St. Gianna Molla is an example of the practical truths of the Gospel and the power of human love. Her life shows us that sometimes our greatest act is an act of loving sacrifice for another. She is a patron to mothers and a supporter of family life for us and for future generations.
Father Jeffrey Kirby is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston currently studying moral theology in Rome.