Dr. Gianna Molla speaks to students about the inspiring witness of her parents

Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla and her siblings are the only living children of a canonized saint. Dr. Molla visited campus on Friday, October 30 for an event hosted by Notre Dame Right to Life to speak about the heroic witness of her mother, St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

St. Gianna Molla, an Italian pediatrician, died shortly after giving birth to Gianna Emanuela in 1962. She was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in May 2004. In his canonization homily, the Holy Father presented her as a model of virtue: “The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.” 

The event began with a lecture by Fr. Joseph Christensen, the founder of the Franciscans of Mary Immaculate and chaplain of the St. Gianna and Pietro Molla Maternity Home in Warsaw, North Dakota. He spoke about the legacy of Pietro Molla, the husband of St. Gianna. Following St. Gianna’s death, Pietro raised the family as a single father while working long hours managing a matchstick company. Fr. Christensen extolled Pietro as an exemplary husband and a model of leadership, sacrifice, and humility for men: “He pushed through, he prayed, he trusted in God’s Providence. We need that in men. We need that in marriage and family life.”

Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla then spoke about the life and message of her parents, St. Gianna and Pietro. She began by reading a letter Pietro wrote to his wife while away on a business trip. The couple frequently corresponded when separated, ensuring a deep bond between them: “Even though mom and dad were thousands of kilometers apart, they were in fact deeply close to each other, thanks to the immense love which united them.” 

Dr. Emanuela Molla then described St. Gianna’s childhood, which was marked from a young age by a great devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin. Dr. Molla said she was most moved by her parents’ “deep faith, unwavering confidence in divine providence, and their deep humility.” She continued, “They truly lived the sacrament of marriage as a vocation and as a path towards holiness.”

During her pregnancy with Gianna Emanuela, St. Gianna was diagnosed with a large fibroma. The doctors offered her mother the choice of a hysterectomy, the removal of the fibroma with an abortion, or the removal of the fibroma and continuation of the pregnancy. St. Gianna chose the last option despite being aware of the severe risks involved. Gianna Emanuela was delivered by cesarean section on Holy Saturday, following which St. Gianna fell gravely ill and died within a week.

Following his wife’s death, Pietro persevered in raising his family and practicing the Catholic faith: “I remembered that Dad prayed a great deal and continued thanking the Lord for everything,” related Dr. Molla. At the age of 92, Pietro saw his wife canonized a saint in St. Peter’s Square by Pope Saint John Paul II.

Dr. Molla recognized that holiness is not always easy and often entails great suffering: “My holy parents’ lives teach me that the way of the cross is certainly the right way I have to follow to be able one day to attain paradise.” Suffering is uncomfortable and difficult, but “it is the only way which allows us to give a full and complete meaning to our life.” Moreover, the path of the cross can be one of joy when we embrace it with gratitude and “when we see everything that occurs in our life in the light of faith.”

Dr. Molla concluded with a discussion of her mission and the importance of vocation. Before his death, her father told her of the importance of someone in the family spreading the message of St. Gianna: “If I don’t do what I try to do, no one can do this on behalf of me. And I think that there is a specific plan of God for each of us even before we are born.”

Dr. Molla hopes to “spread all around the world the example and testimony and spirituality of my saint-mom and my holy dad, for the hope and encouragement of many souls and to give glory to Our Lord.” Dr. Emanuela Molla assured the audience of her prayers and asked for them in return.

Madeline Murphy, an officer in Right to Life, helped organize Dr. Molla’s visit. “I was thrilled with how the event turned out,” she said. “The crowd was awesome, and Dr. Gianna was a wonderful and inspiring speaker.” Murphy also appreciated the emphasis on Pietro’s role in leading his wife to heaven: “I especially loved the letters Pietro wrote to his wife Gianna. They showed authentic love and dedication that is necessary in a spousal relationship. Pietro Molla is an excellent example of the type of fatherhood that St. Joseph calls all men to emulate.”

Matt Hansen, a sophomore studying business analytics, was also inspired by the discussion of marriage, family, and fatherhood. He told the Rover that Dr. Gianna’s message “signifies and highlights the importance of having a strong father, which is something that we are losing today.” Hansen concluded, “To hear and learn about a saint, especially to learn about them personally, makes me want even more to become a saint.”

Adam Morys is a junior from Downingtown, Pennsylvania majoring in history and philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. When he is not reading, you can find him listening to music and taking walks around campus. Please email him at amorys@nd.edu.