Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (Milan), Italy on Oct. 4, 1922. The 10th of 13 children whom only 9 lived to adulthood, she grew up in the Lombardy region where her family relocated. Raised well in the Christian faith by her parents, she actively participated in a youth Catholic Action group. She was also a member of the Vincent de Paul Society, doing apostolic work towards the needy and elderly members of her community.
In 1949, she received her diploma on Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia. She opened a clinic near her hometown and specialized in Pediatrics. Not a nerdy doctor, Gianna’s zest for life overflowed when skiing and mountaineering with friends.
Bent on joining her brother, a missionary priest in Brazil, Gianna strongly believed her expertise on Gynecology could help the poor women there. But chronic poor health prevented it. Instead, she ministered to needy women, children and the elderly in Milan. In 1954, she married Pietro Molla, an engineer ten years her senior. After giving birth to three children, Gianna suffered 2 miscarriages. In 1961, she was expecting a baby again. Unfortunately, a fibroma developed in her uterus. Her doctors gave 3 options: an abortion, a hysterectomy or removal of the fibroma. An abortion was unthinkable. Gianna also nixed the 2nd choice, although the Catholic Church allows removal of the uterus for health reasons. She was well aware removal of her uterus would never let her bear children again. Only the encroaching fibroma was surgically removed without harming the baby inside her womb -- even if it meant complications will hound her after the operation. As expected, she did suffer from complications throughout her pregnancy. Knowing her eventual delivery would be difficult, she intimated to her family: if a choice will come up between her life and that of her baby’s, the doctors must save her baby.
Gianna Beretta Molla’s 4th baby was born thru Caesarean section on April, 21, 1962, a Good Friday. She endured excruciating pain as infection spread throughout the insides of her body. Writhing in pain, she exclaimed repeatedly, “Jesus, I love you!” as her doctors frantically tried to save her life. On April 28, she succumbed to septic peritonitis seven days after her delivery. Only 39 when the young wife and mother died, deep sorrow pervaded her funeral. St. Gianna is the patron saint of physicians, mothers and preborn children. Her feast day is April 28, her death anniversary.
St. Gianna offered the supreme sacrifice--her own life-- so that her baby may live. What can be more selfless than offering one’s life so that another may live? If that isn’t mother’s instinct in its fullest, if that isn’t true unconditional love, I don’t know what is. Even as her life hung like a flimsy thread ready to snap anytime, the only words that came out of her lips was an undying love for God. The unimaginable pain she suffered then was farthest from her mind. How awe-inspiring!