Read: Saint Gianna Beretta Molla | "An inspiration for all" by Dr. Joanne Castillo Rivera MD

The daughter that Saint Gianna Molla died to save did not grow up motherless, writes Dr. Joanne Castillo Rivera MD who is a wife, mother-of-three, and parishioner at Saint Martha in Okemos.

To this day, her daughter refers to her mother as, “My Saint Mom.” As a parent, this little phrase gives me great hope in face of a fear that is normal for every parent: If I died, would my children be okay? I have met Giovanna Molla’s daughter, and she is an inspiration. Out of this great tragedy, came a joyful, hopeful, faithful soul, who experiences her mother as present to her in daily life as a companion on the journey of life, her joys and sorrows. As a mother and as a physician, I feel a special connection with this “Saint Mom,” and I want to share more about her life with you.

Born Giovanna Francesca on October 4, 1922, on the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi in Magenta (Milan), Italy. Her name translates in English toJoanne, Joann or Joanna, which means “God is gracious.” She lived a Franciscan spirituality, by loving and helping the poor, elderly, children, and vulnerable, and also through her love of nature.

She was a joyful and generous woman, who learned to love the Lord through the example of her parents and siblings. She grew up in a Catholic home where daily mass and praying the Rosary was a normal part of family life. She became involved in Catholic Action, where she was a leader and helped other women grow in their faith through works of mercy. She eventually became a general physician at age 27, caring for patients of all ages, and later became a pediatrician. She said “One earns Paradise with one’s daily task.” (Pietro Molla, Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor, p. 149.)

Saint Gianna discerned her vocation of marriage, met Pietro Molla and married him within a year of meeting at age 33. They had four children, but Gianna suffered at least two miscarriages. They appreciated each child as a gift from God. Gianna had difficult pregnancies, especially the last one, when she was told she had a tumor in her uterus that had to be removed. She was offered an abortion, which she declined, a hysterectomy (removal of her uterus), which she also declined, and the option of having the child, placing her life and the baby’s life at risk, but with a better chance of allowing the child to survive and also to preserve her fertility. In fact, she told her husband Pietro that if he had to choose between her life and the life of the baby, to choose the life of their child. She said: "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate; choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”

Saint Gianna heroically chose to sacrifice her life for the life of her daughter Gianna Emanuela, born Holy Saturday morning. The saint died at the age of 39 a week after giving birth on April 28, 1962, from a fatal infection, septic peritonitis, which current medicine would have likely cured. She is an example of a lay woman that lived a life of service, of self-sacrifice, of love, and joy. She spread the joy of the Lord everywhere she went, she prayed, worked, and enjoyed life and the beauties of this world as seen through the eyes of God. She is an example for working mothers that sacrifice their lives caring for their children and also helping and serving outside of their home through their profession.

Saint Gianna is an inspiration for all, single, married, lay or religious, mothers, physicians and healthcare workers. As we come to celebrate her feast day this April 28, let us rejoice in the life of this amazing woman, a feminine genius, an example for all.

“Every vocation is a call to motherhood or fatherhood, earthly, spiritual, and moral. God has placed in us an instinct for life. A priest is a father, nuns are mothers, mothers of souls… Each of us must prepare for our own vocation and prepare ourselves to be givers of life.” (Pietro Molla, Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor, p. 153.)

Saint Gianna,

Pray for all the unborn children and all the children.

Pray for expectant mothers, especially those with difficult pregnancies.

Pray for all married couples.

Pray for all couples without children.

Pray for all physicians and healthcare workers.

Pray for the sick.

Pray for us.

By Joanne E. Castillo Rivera, MD