Abortion and the life of an unborn child is a hotly debated topic in modern times. Debate rage endlessly, with strong feelings on many sides. The official position of the Catholic Church defends the sanctity of human life, and many who work directly with local congregations devote themselves to preserving life however possible, including that of the unborn.
One such champion of unborn children is St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who is recognized as the patron saint of mothers, unborn children, and fertility. She has also come to be associated with the pro-life movement within the Catholic Church.
#1 When did St. Gianna Beretta Molla live?
Gianna Beretta was born outside Milan in 1922 to a large family of thirteen children; both of her parents were part of the Third Order of Saint Francis. She dedicated herself to religious study as a teenager, then began studying medicine in 1942.
#2 What did she focus her ministry on?
When she graduated from medical school, she opened an office for pediatrics close to her hometown outside of Milan. She had hoped to join her brother in Brazil as a missionary providing medical services to pregnant women, but her poor health prevented her from doing so.
#3 What was her family like?
She met Pietro Molla in 1954, and the two married a year later. They had four children.
#4 What key church teachings guided her life and ministry?
Her passion from the start of her ministry was to care for pregnant women and those trying to have children. She was passionately devoted to her husband, and despite having miscarriages of her own she remained faithful to her own family as well.
She also was unwavering in her devotion to the Catholic teachings on the sanctity of life, including what was then understood as a complete ban on abortion. It defied the sanctity of the life of the unborn, and that belief led to the account for which she is most beloved and remembered.
#5 When and how did she die?
While she was pregnant with her fourth child, her doctors noticed a tumor on her uterus. She was given three options in order to preserve her life: she could have an abortion, she could undergo a hysterectomy, or she could remove the tumor by itself. She chose to remove the tumor alone, refusing to endanger her child. She did not believe in killing her child through abortion, which would have gone against the direct teaching of the Catholic Church; and although she could have morally had the hysterectomy in order to save her own life, she did not believe this was an appropriate action either.
Her fourth child was born successfully through a Caesarian section, but she developed complications afterward and died at the age of 39.
#6 How does someone become a saint?
After a person has died, their life is investigated by an official expert authorized by the Church. Their initial report is submitted to the bishop of their diocese and further investigation is performed. They may then submit the individual to the office of the Pope for recognition by the universal church. If this recognition is granted, they will have been venerated by the Church, and are given the title “Venerable.”
The next level involves further research, and if warranted the person is beatified and is given the new title “Blessed.”
The final level of investigation determines whether or not miracles were performed. Proof of at least two miracles performed by God through this person must be verified. Once this is proven, the Pope may canonize this person as a saint through a public proclamation.
#7 When was St. Gianna Beretta Molla canonized?
St. Gianna Beretta Molla was beatified in 1994 and was declared a saint in 2004. Her husband and children were present at the canonization service, which marked the first time that a husband was ever present to witness the canonization of his wife.
#8 What miracles led to her canonization?
Two miracles were required to declare her Blessed and a saint.
The first miracle attributed to St. Gianna Beretta Molla involved a woman who had delivered a stillborn child decades after Molla had passed. She developed further complications from the procedure and thought she was going to die. The nurses attending to her prayed to a photograph of Molla, and soon the woman lost her pain and the doctors found that her condition was miraculously resolved.
The second miracle attributed to her happened 24 years later: a woman who had developed a serious complication with her pregnancy appealed to Gianna for her intercession, and she was able to deliver the child in perfect health despite the complication.
#9 What about St. Gianna Beretta Molla makes her the patron saint of fertility?
Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, recognize certain saints as able to intercede before God in prayer on behalf of those suffering from a particular ailment or to pray on behalf of a certain kind of believer. Others do not believe that saints can intercede on behalf of the living when they die.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla is the patron saint of fertility, mothers, wives, and unborn children. She is most closely associated with pregnancy, and believers will sometimes pray to her for intercession on behalf of their unborn children.
In an era where the sanctity of human life is attacked on many fronts, it is encouraging to see people like St. Gianna Beretta Molla engaging in the much-needed work of caring for expectant mothers and dedicating herself to preserving the lives of those who would otherwise have no other advocate. We can learn from her tireless dedication to service to her Lord and Savior, and her loving care for her own husband and children. May each of us strive to have the same love and selfless heart for our own children as we seek to raise them up in a strong faith like hers.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.