Gianna Francesca Beretta was born in Magenta, Italy on October 4, 1922. She was the tenth of thirteen children in her family, only nine of whom survived to adulthood. When she was three, her family moved to Bergamo, and she grew up in the Lombardy region of Italy.
In 1942, Gianna began her study of medicine in Milan. Outside of her schooling, she was very active in the Church. She received a medical diploma in 1949, and opened an office in Mesero, near her hometown of Magenta, where she specialized in pediatrics. Gianna hoped to join her brother, a missionary priest, in Brazil, where she intended to offer her medical expertise in gynecology to poor women. However, her chronic ill health made this impractical, and she continued her practice in Italy.
In December 1954, Gianna met Pietro Molla, an engineer who worked in her office, ten years older than she. They were officially engaged the following April, and they married in September 1955. The couple had three children Pieruigi, born in 1956, Mariolina, in 1957, and Laura, born in 1959. Gianna suffered two miscarriages after the birth of Laura.
In 1961, Gianna was pregnant once again. During the second month, she developed a fibroma on her uterus. After examination, the doctors gave her three choices: an abortion, a complete hysterectomy, or removal of only the fibroma. Though the Catholic Church forbids all direct abortion even when the woman’s life is in danger, Catholic teaching would have allowed her to undergo a hysterectomy, which would have resulted in her unborn child’s death as an unintended consequence.
Gianna opted for the removal of the fibroma, wanting to preserve her child’s life.
After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy. Gianna was quite clear about her wishes, expressing to her family, “this time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other—I want them to save my baby.”
On April 21, 1962, Good Friday of that year, Gianna went to the hospital, where her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, was successfully delivered via caesarean section. However, Gianna continued to have severe pain, and died of septic peritonitis 7 days after the birth.
Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24th, 1994, and officially canonized a saint on May 16, 2004. Gianna’s husband Pietro and their last child, Gianna, were present at the canonization ceremony. The miracle recognized by the Catholic Church to canonize Gianna Molla involved a mother, Elizabeth Comparini, who was 16 weeks pregnant in 2003 and sustained a tear in her placenta that drained her womb of all amniotic fluid. Because a normal term pregnancy is 40 weeks, Comparini was told by her doctors the baby’s chance of survival was next to none. Comparini said she prayed to Gianna Molla asking for her intercession, and was able to deliver a healthy baby despite the lack of amniotic fluid.
Saint Gianna is a patron saint for mothers, physicians, and unborn children. Saint Gianna is the inspiration behind the Gianna Center in New York City. It is the first pro-life, Catholic health care center for women in New York.