Extraordinary Women: St. Gianna

St. Gianna Beretta Molla is my homegirl. As a woman quickly approaching her late 20s who is Catholic, called to marriage, and gasp! still single, I find the fact that she met her husband later in life and married him at the ripe “old” age of 33 oddly comforting. And she was days away from 34. In 1955! She was probably harassed by well-intentioned family and friends much sooner and more persistently than I have been!

But St. Gianna is my homegirl not for fact that she married older. Saints are forged in trial, and her faithful persistence made her a saint. Whenever God presented her a trial, she answered, “Whatever God wants.”

Gianna Beretta was born in late 1922, the tenth of thirteen children. Only nine survived to adulthood. With any suffering, especially the death of a loved one, it is easy to blame God and turn away from Him. Like many health care providers I know, deaths early in life tend to drive our passion to heal others. A cousin dying of leukemia most poignantly remains a primary reason I became a nurse, and I bet her siblings’ deaths were part of Gianna’s motivation to become a doctor. Surely, Gianna suffered when her siblings died so young. Yet Gianna answered, “Whatever God wants.”

After graduating medical school, Gianna wanted to join her brother Alberto in Brazil. A missionary priest, he established a hospital, and Gianna greatly desired to assist the women with her gynecology background. But Gianna’s chronic health issues kept her home in Italy. Struggling with my own diagnosis of a chronic gynecologic health issue, I have wept bitterly for the children I might not be able to have. Surely, Gianna wept as well over the loss of her missionary life abroad. Yet, when Gianna could not join Alberto in Brazil, she answered, “Whatever God wants.”

Gianna established a clinic in Mesero, outside of Milan. She viewed her work as a physician to the mothers, babies, elderly, and poor she served to be her own “mission.” She considered religious life but felt called to marriage. Instead of fixating on her vocational state, Gianna worked diligently, caring for her patients as the Divine Physician cares for His children. I work hard to view my job as an ER nurse as God’s mission for me, but sometimes I believe that lie that my life has no purpose until I fulfill my vocation to marriage. Surely, Gianna must have ached to fulfill her vocation to marriage. Yet, she poured herself into her mission as a doctor and also served in Catholic Action and other organizations.

In her enduring single state, Gianna answered, “Whatever God wants.”

Gianna met her future husband Pietro Molla late 1954, and they married in September 1955. They quickly had three children: Pierluigi in 1956, Mariolina in 1957, and Laura in 1959. Helping my sister and brother-in-law take care of their two boys who are less than two years apart, I am sometimes frightened to be so open to life! Surely, Gianna must have been overwhelmed at the many changes in her life. Yet, she was a very happy wife and mother. In her family life, Gianna answered, “Whatever God wants.”

After her third child, Gianna suffered two miscarriages and was pregnant once again in 1961. In the second month of her pregnancy, her doctors found a fibroma on her uterus that needed to be removed. Her doctors offered her an abortion and fibroma removal that would ensure her ability to become pregnant again, a hysterectomy, and removing only the fibroma. According to the principle of double effect and Catholic teaching, Gianna could have licitly select for her doctors to remove her uterus which included the fibroma and her unborn child. But Gianna elect for only the fibroma removal, saying her child’s life was more important that her own.

When wrestling with ethical issues at work or moral issues in my personal life, I often look for the easiest solution. Surely, Gianna with her background in gynecology knew the risks of carrying her child to term. Yet, Gianna answered, “Whatever God wants.”

Gianna was able to carry her daughter to term and gave birth to her via C-section on Holy Saturday, 1962. Gianna Emanuela was born healthy, but Gianna continued to have severe pain after the surgery. She developed an infection in her abdomen and died seven days after giving birth at age 39. Surely, Gianna gave her life for her child, modeling how Christ died for His children. In the last moments of her life, Gianna answered, “Whatever God wants.”

St. Gianna was canonized in May, 2004, with her 91-year-old husband Pietro and children present. Gianna Emanuela is now a doctor herself, specializing in the care of the elderly

As God allows various trials in my life, I tend to answer, “But this isn’t what I want.” Yet, St. Gianna and her example is teaching me to say, “Whatever God wants.” Through her intersession, I am teaching to embrace each trial, each difficulty, each cross with confident love, saying with imperfect trust,

Whatever You want, God.”

[Tweet “Whatever You want, God.”]

Marissa is a registered nurse in her mid-twenties who works in a busy Emergency Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is a cradle Catholic who marvels at how the Good Lord has been cradling her throughout her life.

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1 Comment

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    July 14, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Beautifully written! And exactly what I needed to hear; thank you!

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