WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Pierluigi Molla described the saintly life of his mother prior to her decision to sacrifice her life so that her fourth child might live.
I am very grateful to Archbishop Richard Smith for inviting me here to speak to you about my mother – and not just because I am a typical Italian boy – and to have the opportunity to do so especially here in North America, where she is well known and loved by many people. Precisely in your country the message concerning my mother has been welcomed and loved, and has spread incredibly fast.
I have been asked to offer my testimony about her life, with its constant, daily profession of faith and the motivations behind her every step that led to her decisions. In what I say, however, I prefer that it be my mother herself who speaks to you, through not only my words but also her own, as well as through her actions.
Her message is so clear and luminous that often her words need no further explanation.
Her life, sanctified from beginning to end, is best characterized by the themes of family, apostolate and profession. She lived and died an apostle, a doctor and a mother.
In this regard, I would like to evoke some words from the homily preached by Pope John Paul II during my mother's beatification on April 24, 1994: "We would like to pay homage to all brave mothers who dedicated themselves to their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves."
Her Roots: The family of origins
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2.24).
St. Gianna Molla
St. Gianna Molla, a physician and surgeon living near Milan, Italy, died April 28, 1962, after giving birth to her fourth child.
During her pregnancy, doctors discovered a large ovarian tumour that required surgery. Surgical procedures at the time called for removal of her entire uterus, which would have aborted her two-month old fetus.
She insisted surgeons only remove what was necessary and allow her baby to live and reach term.
St. Gianna pleaded with her family and doctors before the birth: "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate. Choose the child, I insist on it, save the baby."
Blessed John Paul II beatified her in 1994 during the International Year of the Family, and in 2004 he made her a saint as a model of virtue, holiness, motherhood, professionalism and devotion to the faith.
In his homily at the canonization Mass, Pope John Paul said St. Gianna followed Christ's example of loving one's "own in the world and loving them to the end."
The way of life of my mother's family of origin is fully embraced by some other words of John Paul II, this time from his encyclical Familiaris Consortio: "The children have to grow up in a right way in the face of material things, adopting a simple and austere way of life, convinced that man has more value for what he is than for what he owns."
My grandparents, Alberto and Maria, were profound believers. They raised a large and hard-working family, dedicated to charity and participating in the local Church. A solid Christian education in an atmosphere of serenity and mutual respect formed the first "school" of holiness for Gianna, who would grow to reflect the moral stance of her parents and the spiritual richness inherited from the family.
Their example was passed on to the children through the small and simple gestures of a daily life lived according to the Word of God, which has borne fruit. My mother was surrounded by many brothers and sisters who all followed the light of faith, mutually supporting each other throughout their lives.
These brothers and sisters of my mother have been for us children a constant and a guiding light during our lives.
I would like briefly to mention them:
The Church has proclaimed Father Alberto Servant of God and began in 2008 the process for his beatification.
These are the roots from which my mother was born, and from where she started her path of integrity towards her heroic sanctity.
Catholic Action and Saint Vincenzo
"But many of those who had listened to their message became believers; the total number of men had now risen to something like 5,000" (Acts of the Apostles 4.4).
St. Gianna Molla, a modern-day working mother and wife, is pictured with her son Pierluigi and daughter Mariolina in an undated photo.
There is active in Italy an association called Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action). Founded in 1868 with its program of action, prayer and sacrifice, it was fully accepted by Gianna and lived out in the duties and responsibilities given to her.
The purpose of Catholic Action is to spread the name of Christ through acts of the apostolate, maintaining always a strong bond with the bishop and priests of the local diocese.
During the difficult years of World War II, a time when many forces were acting against Christian values, this association adopted the role of preparing many lay Catholic people to work sustaining the kingdom of Christ as true supporters of the Church.
Gianna became a member of this association early in her life, at the age of 12. It was an important factor in her spiritual formation and her apostolate. By reflecting well in her life and spirituality the program of Catholic Action, she has become a role model of sanctity for lay people.
As Pope Paul VI said, she has brought to light the heroism of many Christian mothers. Her exemplary life has been a role model for all mothers of families; her heroic gesture an encouragement always to welcome life with love; her spirituality an example of the path of perfection for the laity.
Her life and witness is an invitation to rediscover the Christian love of life and the joy of maternity.
In addition to Catholic Action, my mother was also an active member of another association called the Conferenza of Saint Vincenzo (the Conference of St. Vincent) and she formed a group in which she assumed the role of secretary and animator.
This is an apostolate of charity, a group which especially helps those who suffer: sick people, those who live in solitude or in difficult situations, the elderly, those in need of assistance, and those who have been abandoned by their families.
To these people, in addition to material help, they try to bring joy and serenity. A smile! In these and other situations she wrote that one should always "smile and forgive offences."
Her profession of physician
"I was sick, and you visited me" (Matthew 25.36).
An ancient title for Christ was Christus medicus, meaning the one who cures. As a physician my mother used to say: "It is necessary to act. It is important to bring Jesus to souls, and in order to do this he needs us doctors."
She graduated in medicine and surgery in 1949 and she specialized in pediatrics in 1952, first in her class. She chose this specialty not only because of her love for children, but also to be close to mothers, being able to understand them as both a doctor and a woman. When she became a mother herself, she remained a mother for her patients too.
It has been said about her that "in her professional activity the thought of her family never limited her generosity in serving the sick; on the contrary it made her more able to understand the problems of other mothers."
She lived her profession as a true mission and, as she said herself in one of her reflections: "Do your part well and study your science well."
A woman and a professional, Gianna lived in full coherence those ideas and beliefs, which were the result of her deeply Christian and genuinely evangelical formation, and of her excellent professional and moral preparation, and which arose from her genuine humanity, competence, honesty, devotion and respect for people.
In confirmation of this, the first after her death to recognize her stature and influence, was the lay governmental authority of the province of Milan.
In 1950 she opened an outpatient clinic in Mesero, which had added to her responsibility as district municipal doctor and where she would work until her death. In addition, after her wedding, she was responsible in the town of Ponte Nuovo for the pediatric consulting room, and school physician of the private day care run by the Canossian Nuns in the state primary school.
She devoutly employed herself for the healing, body and soul, of her patients. From the first period of her work, we still have five sheets of her prescription book, in which she noted her thoughts on the medical profession, about which she had very precise ideas.
She placed the profession of the doctor squarely in the real world, but also having the particular prerogative of standing before a body in which God has "grafted the divine," before that bodily and spiritual greatness of the human being, through whom God, not wanting to be an abstract idea, has chosen to reveal himself.
CNS PHOTO FROM CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO
St. Gianna Molla is pictured here with her daughter Mariolina.
For this reason, she helped the needy not just with her professional skills but also financially. She wrote: "If I cure a sick man who does not have anything to eat, what will the medicines do?" And, "We, doctors, we work on the man. He is not just a body. . . . He is a body but also a supernatural soul. . . .We, doctors, we touch Jesus in the body of our patients."
For this reason when there were sick people coming to see her who conducted an immoral life, she suffered for them and she tried in every way to encourage them to change their lives. She considered her profession to be a true apostolate.
In one of her writings, she explains the beauty and the importance of this mission: "All of us work in this world at the service of men. We, doctors, we work directly on the human being. The object of our science and work is a human being, facing us, asking us to help him and expecting from us the fullness of his existence."
Every day she thanked God for making her choose this profession, which allowed her to realize her ideals of being close to others and performing deeds of the apostolate.
The Forming of her own family
"Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. . . . She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness" (Proverbs 31.10-26).
The first dream of my mother was to travel as a missionary doctor to Brazil, where her brothers, Alberto and Francesco, were building the hospital in Grajaù. Because of her health, which would not have been able to stand the climate, she was strongly advised against going.
At the same time she also felt attracted to married life and having children of her own. She prayed a lot to understand the will of God.
She once wrote to a friend: "The paths of God are all beautiful, in that the end is always the same: to save our soul and manage to draw many other souls close to paradise to glorify God."
In June 1954 she went with a train of sick people to Lourdes, and, coming back, she signed up for the Association of Catholic Doctors and the Medical Association of Notre-Dame of Lourdes.
She wrote: "I went to Lourdes to ask the Holy Virgin what I should do: Leave for the missions or get married?"
In December of that year she met my father Pietro Molla. Of that decisive encounter, the day after it happened, my father wrote in his journal: "I feel the serene calm which tells me how good an encounter was the one I had yesterday. The Immaculate Madonna has blessed me."
The first months of engagement were characterized by delicacy and spiritual consideration. Pietro, in order to contribute to Gianna's deeds of charity towards her sick patients, arranged in his house a new and more inviting outpatient clinic. They started to exchange letters, the first of many they would write to one another throughout their years together.
My father shared fully my mother's point of view and once he wrote her these words: "Since we have known each other, I have witnessed your faith, lived in a clear and complete way, and a spirit of praying so intense, profound and sure of its efficacy."
They were married in Magenta on Sept. 24, 1955. Their matrimonial life would be very short, only six and a half years, but it was lived with the intensity of a vocation.
Convinced that God has placed in man the call to life, she immediately wanted children of her own. I was born in November 1956, my sister Mariolina in December 1957, and Laura in July 1959. Finally, Gianna Emanuela was born April 21, 1962.
My mother immediately cared for our moral and religious education, bringing us to Church, teaching us to make small sacrifices, making us reflect in the evenings on the defects of our day.
The family was for her not only a mission, but also the starting point and fulcrum of a life full of many activities, the place of the mind and of the body, from whence comes the energy to face the day ahead of us.
In us, her children, there still live many of our mother's passions, like music and love for the mountains. From the many photographs that we have of her, pictured on her skis or during a hard climb, she smiles happily at us, communicating always, even after all these years, her joy for living those moments in communion with nature and God.
One of my clearest memories is that of being with her in the car, which she drove really fast and capably, on the roads of those towns where she exercised her profession. For my fun - and for hers too - when it was safe to do so, she would pretend to be a bit erratic in her driving. I have always thought that my passion for driving and for cars came from those memories of pure happiness I had with her.
Her Life as Example
"Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10.37).
A classmate remembering her once said, "Gianna had such a communicative faith that all the people who were with her, after only a short period of time, felt attracted to the Church and wanted to attend with greater fervour to the Christian life, thanks to her example."
At the age of 16, she fully comprehended the value of the concept of apostolate. She considered herself to have received a lot and she wanted to share what she received with everyone. To her young girls of the Azione Cattolica she would say: "We must be vigilant, careful, walk with no rest until the end, fight the spiritual enemies."
Many witnesses say they have rediscovered their faith thanks to Gianna, who helped resolve doubts and moments of crisis by facing problems with not only reason but also the light of the Gospel.
One of her priorities has always been that of defending her beliefs with courage. Every year of her youth was characterized by an intense apostolate. Even later, as a doctor and in her family she would be a full time apostle.
CNS PHOTO COURTESY CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO
St. Gianna is pictured in 1956 with her first baby, Pierluigi.
She lived the golden period of her apostolate during her university years until marriage. Those were years where, full of enthusiasm, she managed to pour out to others her interior richness. This ideal of doing good went along with a passion for her studies.
She had the deep desire to dedicate her youth to study and to the apostolate. She dedicated herself to achieving this purpose by being active in the organization of spiritual retreats, trips, theatrical shows, games, faithful to the motto of Azione Cattolica: "We must act."
Her entire life was stamped by action, living what she taught and insisting that example is much more valuable than words. She used to say: "Man, who always needs to see, touch and feel, does not fall easily for a word. Speaking well is not enough; it's necessary to show example.
"It is important to be living witnesses of the grandeur and of the beauty of Christianity. Make the truth visible in yourself, render the truth pleasant, offering yourselves as a significant example and, if it is possible, a heroic one.
"Don't be afraid of defending God, the pope, the Church and her ministers. . . . It is the moment to act. We cannot remain indifferent in the face of anti-religious and immoral campaigns. We must act and enter in to all the fields of action – social, the family, politics and labour – in order for all the forces of good to be united and form a sort of barrier.
"As members of Azione Cattolica we have to devote ourselves to the apostolate. . . . Jesus says: Renounce yourself. To a world that speaks of 'pleasure' we must answer with 'duty.'"
She encouraged prayer as well: "We are apostles. If we want our apostolate to have meaning and be effective, there is only one unmistakable way – pray.
"We must be souls of prayer even if everything around us during the day distracts our mind away from it. Prayer has to be offered with faith in the power of God who can help us. If there is a lack of faith, the prayer is empty."
The life of Gianna was one continuous apostolate, which she would have not been able to do without a deep inner life. Not satisfied merely with words, her relationship with the Lord led her to action. She was a genuinely human woman, rooted in life, who was so able to unite her rootedness with higher ideals as to reach the highest point a human being can aim for: an authentic witness of Christ. She was a witness to authentic Christianity, that of the Gospels, not one practiced simply by force of habit, motivated mostly by conformism.
When life demanded more of her, her faith did not waver, not even for a moment. The last pregnancy of Gianna was immediately problematic and she, who was fully aware of the risks she was about to face, always privileged the new life she was carrying over herself.
To this point, we know our prevailing culture is hostile, it was obviously the only option that my mother took into consideration in perfect coherence with all the actions of her entire life.
She knew perfectly well how her children needed her, but the unborn child had a primary necessity because it could only depend on her. The others, already born, could have the help of the divine providence, in which she firmly believed.
My father remembered very precisely her last days and of that time he wrote: "With incredible strength and with unchanging commitment she carried on her mission of mother and doctor. . . . She prayed and meditated.
"She prayed for her creature to be born without sufferings. A few days before the delivery, with a tone both firm and serene, with a deep glance which I never forgot, she said: 'If it comes to choose between me and the baby, no hesitations, choose, and I demand it, the baby, save it.'"
Sadly her conditions after the birth of my sister on April 21, 1962 became worse and, despite the care, she died with much suffering on April 28. Her last thoughts and her last words during those terrible days went to Jesus and her children who she was leaving alone, as she confided to her sister Mother Virginia.
She managed to die for a great ideal, keeping her faith until the end and, as Pope John Paul II said during the ceremony of beatification in 1994, "She is blessed because of how she lived, besides how she died. Her sacrifice was not vain in light of how widely her message has spread."