Gianna Beretta Molla was born in Magenta in Italy. She was the tenth of thirteen children in her family, only nine of whom survived to adulthood. When she was three, her family moved to Bergamo, and she grew up in the Lombardy region of Italy. In 1942, Gianna began her study of medicine in Milan. Outside of her schooling, she was active in Azione Cattolica. She received a medical diploma in 1949, and opened an office in Mesero, near her hometown of Magenta, where she specialized in pediatrics. Gianna hoped to join her brother, a missionary priest in Brazil, where she intended to offer her medical expertise in gynecology to poor women. However, her chronic ill health made this impractical, and she continued her practice in Italy. In December 1954, Gianna met Pietro Molla, an engineer who worked in her office, ten years older than she. They were officially engaged the following April, and they married in September 1955. They welcomed Pierluigi, in 1956, Mariolina, in 1957, and Laura in 1959.
In 1961, Gianna was pregnant once again. During the second month, Gianna developed a fibroma on her uterus. After examining her, the doctors gave her three choices: an abortion, a complete hysterectomy, or removal of only the fibroma. The Catholic Church forbids all direct abortion but Catholic teaching would have allowed her to undergo a hysterectomy, which would have resulted in her unborn child’s death as an unintended consequence.
Gianna opted for the removal of the fibroma, wanting to preserve her child’s life. After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy. Gianna was quite clear about her wishes, expressing to her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other – I want them to save my baby.” On April 21, 1962, Holy Saturday of that year, Gianna went to the hospital, where her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, was successfully delivered by Caesarean section. However, Gianna continued to have severe pain, and died of septic peritonitis seven days after giving birth.
Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, and canonized on May 16, 2004. Gianna’s husband Pietro, and their children Laura and Gianna Emanuela, were present at the canonization ceremony, the first time in the history of the Church that a husband witnessed his wife’s canonization. The miracle recognized by the Catholic Church to canonize Gianna Molla involved a mother, Elizabeth Comparini, who was 16 weeks pregnant in 2003 and sustained a tear in her placenta that drained her womb of all amniotic fluid. Because a normal term of pregnancy is 40 weeks, Comparini was told by her doctors the baby’s chance of survival was “nil.” Comparini said she prayed to Gianna Molla asking for her intercession, and was able to deliver a healthy baby despite the lack of amniotic fluid. In his homily at her canonization Mass, Pope John Paul II called Gianna “a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.”
- October, 04, 1922
- Magenta, Italy
- April, 28, 1962
- Monza, Italy
Cause of Death
- septic peritonitis
- Mesero Cemetery
- Lombardia, Italy