Our Lady of the Wayside

Our Lady of the Wayside
Protect Expectant Mothers and Their Babies


Thursday 4 December 2014

Saint Gianna Molla, Brought to Sanctity Under the Mantle of Our Lady of Good Counsel

I was recently asked to speak about St Gianna Molla, widely seen as a patroness of expectant mothers, unborn children and difficult pregnancies. Researching St Gianna's life was fascinating and really helped me to appreciate this amazing woman. I have included some of my favourite bits of her life here, but there is so much I have left out, her truly Catholic childhood, her Catholic apostolates, her pro-life philosophy of medicine and the beautiful account her husband gives of their courtship and marriage. (Ladies, take note of who you meet on Marian Feast days!)
Gianna Molla once said, “If during the struggles to carry out our vocation, we should have to die, that would be the most beautiful day of our life.” And if you know any one thing about Gianna Molla, you probably know that she gave up her life to save the life of her unborn baby. A sacrifice like that doesn’t come out of nowhere, or out of a life lived selfishly. As much as any Mother may want to do everything to preserve the life of her child, it is never the less astoundingly heroic  to be able to choose this sacrificial path when the Mother has 3 other young children who will be left Motherless.

Both Gianna and her husband Pietro came from large Italian Catholic families. Gianna had a great love for the most vulnerable, the elderly, expectant Mothers and their babies, born and pre-born. She worked both as a GP and also as a paediatrician. As she saw medicine as an apostolate, it is unsurprising that she considered for some time the idea of becoming a medical missionary. Her elder brother, Fr Alberto, was a missionary doctor in the southern Amazon region of Brazil. And he was struggling with little resources and few volunteers to provide medical assistance to the local people. This idea was eventually ruled out for Gianna by the fact that her own health was not up to it and also that in the light of this, her confessor advised her that her vocation was Marriage. From then on she embraced this vocation to Marriage “quite deliberately” according to her husband.
Gianna and Pietro's meeting, courtship and engagement is a beautiful story in itself, deserving of a post of it's own. But the couple settled joyfully into a really Christian Marriage. Soon they had their first child Pierluigi in 1956, followed by Mariolina in 1957 and Laura in 1959. Each pregnancy was very difficult and in the third pregnancy she suffered from some kind of poisoning and was taken into hospital as an emergency case, but she made a full recovery. Two miscarriages followed this pregnancy, but, regarding these children as treasures in heaven the Mollas were not deterred from having more children.
Pietro said of Gianna's joy in her children,

Gianna was a joyful person, but when a child was born, her joy was full and perfect. Nothing was lacking. She was radiant. From the beginning of our Marriage she prepared herself with prayer to create the most welcoming, the most serene environment for our children.
Then there was the Consecration to Our Lady. We lived in Ponte Nuovo, and two minutes away was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel. At the end of each child’s baptism, at Gianna’s request, I read an act of Consecration to Our Lady of Good Counsel. Gianna was devoted to her, and I think that her final choices were brought to maturity in the shadow of the Madonna of Good Counsel. (You can find prayers to our Lady of Good Counsel here)

Then in September 1961, Gianna was diagnosed with a fibroid tumour in the womb it was non-malignant and after a seemingly successful operation, Gianna went home and carried on with the pregnancy. Normal medical practise could have removed the disease uterus and thus removed the threat to Gianna’s health, this would have resulted in an unintended side effect of the death of her child however and so Gianna had instructed the doctor instead to place the baby’s life before her own.

How fully she knew the risk she was taking, or when she knew it is unclear. But Pietro recalls

You so desired another child. You prayed and asked that the Lord would hear you. The Lord heard you, but this Divine Grace required the sacrifice of your life.

Many times you asked yourself whether you were a worry to me. You said that never as then did you need tenderness and understanding.

I heard not a word from you in all those long months about your awareness as a physician of what was ahead of you. Certainly, this was to keep me from suffering.

I watched you silently tidying up every corner of our house, every drawer, every dress, every personal object day after day as if for a long trip. But I did not dare to ask myself why.

Only a few days before the birth, in a firm and at the same time peaceful tone, with a profound gaze I have never forgotten, you declared to me: “If you have to decide between me and the baby, there is to be no hesitation. Choose the baby. I demand it. Save it!”

From that moment I, too, trembled and suffered with you.

He goes on to say:
“in your humility, and above all in the fullness of your trust in Providence, you were convinced that you were not committing an act of injustice towards our 3 children, because in that painful circumstance the one who had primary and indispensable need of you was the baby in your womb; and despite considering your duty to the upbringing of our children was no less serious than the duty of guaranteeing that they came to life after conception, you had complete trust in Providence regarding their education and their formation if the new pregnancy requested the sacrifice of your life.”

Indeed Gianna was fully aware of the sacredness of human life and had remarked,

              Woe to those young people who do not accept the vocation of Motherhood.

Of her own sacrifice she formally offered it to God saying

                “Yes, I have prayed so much in these days. With faith and hope I have entrusted myself in the Lord....I trust in God, Yes; but now it is up to me to fulfil my duty as a Mother. I renew to the Lord the offer of my life. I am ready for everything, to save my baby.”

Gianna’s last days in Pietro’s words,

Holy Saturday morning we had the incredible joy; the Divine gift of the child we awaited – Gianna Emmanuela.

A few hours later, your sufferings began, extraordinary, beyond your strength, sufferings which made you continually call on your Mother, who was already in Heaven.

You knew you had to die, and you felt the torment of leaving all our children who were so young, but you did not admit that to me.

When you took our little infant in your arms, you looked at her so affectionately, with a look that betrayed your unspeakable suffering at not being able to look after her, to raise her, to see her again.

But even in that moment there was no hint to me that you were afraid and much less certain you had to die. Only to Sr Maria Eugenia Crippa, ...did you say when you entered there;

                “Sister, here I am; I am here to die this time.”

And you said it – by testimony of Sr Maria Eugenia, “With a look of sorrow for the life you regretted leaving, but at the same time with calm. A true model of the heroic mother.” I remember everything you said to me Wednesday morning, with such a gentle serenity that it seemed almost other worldly:

                “Pietro, I’m cured now. Pietro, I was already over there and do you know what I saw? Someday I will tell you. But because we were so happy, we were too comfortable with our marvellous babies, full of health and grace, with all the blessings of heaven, they sent me down here, to suffer still, but it is not right to come to the Lord without enough suffering.”

This was and remains for me your testament of joy and suffering.

Then there were still greater sufferings.

You desired to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, at least on your lips, even Thursday and Friday, when you could no longer swallow the Sacred Particle. Beside you was a holy priest, Fr Olinto Marella.

The Lord could not attend to my weeping, my supplication, my prayers as I served Fr Marella’s Mass in the Hospital church, holding back my tears with difficulty. He could not attend to the prayers of our babies, of that holy priest, of our many dear ones who felt anguish for your life, as if you were a member of their own family. You repeated many times in your agony:

                “Jesus, I Love You, Jesus, I Love You.”

Wednesday evening you had asked to go back to our house. Saturday morning you came to your final agony.

Perhaps you, too, heard the voice of your babies, who were waking up in the next room. Almost at that very moment you went up to heaven with the saints.

Gianna’s canonisation was a first many times over she was the first married laywoman to be canonised, the first to have her husband and children present at her canonisation. She was the first canonised woman physician and the first canonised working mother, at a time when women with a professional career and young children were not so common.
Her husband Pietro died on Holy Saturday, the day Gianna Emmanuela was born, some 48 years later in 2010.
Her first miracle occurred in the hospital in Brazil where her brother, Fr Alberto worked, and where she had once dreamt of being a missionary.
Fr Alberto's cause for beatification has already been opened and there is a suggestion that Pietro Molla's cause also be examined.
Please support today's Mothers in difficult pregnancies who are tempted to abort by supporting the Good Counsel Network.
Clare McCullough


  1. Thank you for this most moving brief account of the life of Saint Gianna Molla.
    God bless you in your work.


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