Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(4) November 2023

Great Medical Lives
St Gianna Beretta Molla

Gianna’s family background

Gianna MollaGianna Beretta was born on 4th October 1922, the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, in Magenta, Milan. She was one of 13 children, 5 of whom sadly died at a young age. Gianna was the 2nd to the youngest.

Gianna came from a family of committed Christians. Her parents, Alberto and Maria Beretta married on 12th October 1908. Her father had been orphaned at 4 years old and due to his own experience of missing the family warmth and closeness growing up, ‘always wanted to have his children near him’ when he formed his own family [pg. 23]. Gianna’s mother, Maria, though she completed trade school which prepared her for a clerical job, never had time to work because she was needed at home. She raised her sisters. Maria considered religious life but was helped by her confessor to realise her vocation was to have a family. Alberto was reportedly respected in the Cotton Mill for his hard work and sense of responsibility. They established themselves in Milan, not far from a Capuchin friary where they received spiritual support, and found it a place to find fellowship and to help others. When they moved to Bergamo to flee the Spanish flu epidemic, Alberto’s journeys to work were exhausting but when he returned home ‘his fatigue and worry gave way to joy in his family’.

The family members helped each other out. Gianna’s older sister Amelia helped her prepare for her First Holy Communion aged 5 years old and Gianna went with her mother to daily Mass. She was taught the piano by her mum and sister. Gianna reportedly felt closest to her youngest sister Virginia.

Later in Gianna’s life, when she was married, she remained committed to her siblings and niece, making time to keep up contact with them.

Gianna was no stranger to tragedy

Gianna’s older sister Amalia died in 1937, aged 26 years old. Gianna would have been in her mid-teens at the time. She then lost both her parents less than 6 years later. In 1942, when Gianna was only 20 years old, her mother died of cerebral thrombosis. Her father died 4 months later.

A turning point in Gianna’s Faith journey

Gianna’s life took a turn when she went on retreat in 1938, in her mid-teens. Gianna writes “I make the holy resolution to do everything for Jesus. All my works, all my disappointments, I offer everything to Jesus... I want to ask the Lord to help me not to go to hell... I ask the Lord that he make me understand his great mercy” [pg. 27]. It might be considered this was a time of ‘stepping out of her family upbringing to take her own path to sanctity’ [pg. 28]. She received many graces and deepened her devotion for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Gianna’s poor health led to withdrawal from school, and she spent this period of time at home devoted to growing in piety, piano and knowledge of her parents. She began to habitually attend Mass. She became committed and directional with her life, desiring to be a missionary, studying well, and beginning to lead the youngest Catholic Action girls.

Gianna, the Doctor

Gianna graduated from medical school in 1949 and specialised in Paediatrics. She also worked as a General Medical Practitioner. For Gianna, medicine was a mission, and it involved caring for the body and soul of the patient. She said, “Whoever touches the body of a patient, touches the Body of Christ’. By this she ‘sought to cure illness’ but also ‘bring comfort to spirits’ [pg 73]. She treated the sick with dignity and was deeply human in her behaviour. She behaved as a friend towards patients.

She worked with her brother in a clinic he opened in Mesoro which lacked resources to meet the demands. In this work, she helped mothers, young women, the old and the poor. After marriage, she became the Health Director of a Day Care centre and maternity centre, and she offered her services as a school doctor both in a nursery school run by the Canossian sisters, and in an elementary school. She had a special liking for the elderly, loving to visit them at home without being called. Patients had a great affection towards her.

She wanted to continue working after marriage. Pietro agreed, but that she would stop after their 4th child was born.

Gianna wrote a piece titled “Beauty of the Physician’s Mission” [pg. 74-75]. In this she writes: “Today, unfortunately, there is too much superficiality even in our work. We care for bodies but often without competence.

  1. Do our part well. Study your sciences well. There is a race for money today
  2. Let us be honest. Be trustworthy physicians.
  3. Take affectionate care, thinking that they are our brothers. Act with delicacy.
  4. Do not forget the sick person’s soul”

Gianna was committed to Faith and Service

Gianna actively helped with Catholic Action and St Vincent de Paul Society. She was particularly committed to helping with the formation of young women. Her work involved visiting and helping the poor elderly people in Magenta with housework, cooking and chores, and entertainment. She encouraged the girls in Catholic Action to become saints and often repeated that “Christian life is not achieved by people who do little but by those who commit themselves completely” [pg. 65].

Gianna was committed to daily Mass, silence before the Blessed Sacrament, recollection, meditation, and recitation of the daily rosary. She took on the motto for Catholic Action – “PAS – Prayer, Action and Sacrifice. She avoided gossip and was always readily available for service and committed herself to her duties.

Gianna, the Wife and Mother

Two of Gianna’s brothers were ordained priests – one of them, Fr Alberto, was a missionary priest in Brazil. Gianna had seriously considered joining the missions in Brazil, but due to poor health this wasn’t possible. She had consulted Bishop Bernareggi on the matter, and his response was reportedly as follows:

“In what my experience as priest and bishop has taught me, I know that when the Lord calls a soul to the missionary ideal, besides a great faith and an exceptional spirituality, he also gives physical strength that will help overcome difficulties and situations that here we are unable even to imagine. If Gianna does not have this gift, I think precisely that this is not the road the Lord calls her to live” [pg. 31].

With the clarity that her vocation was to marriage, Gianna met Pietro Molla and the two were married on 24th September 1955 at the Basilica of S. Martino, Magenta.

Gianna demonstrated a desire to love her husband, saying to Pietro at the beginning of their engagement “I want to make you happy; tell me what I should do to make you happy” [pg. 77]. Pietro testified to her goodness. He recalls how with Gianna he entered “an atmosphere of spiritual serenity, of faith lived with joy, in which all things are good and pure when they are done with a pure heart” [pg.77].

Gianna gave birth to their first child Pierluigi on 19th November 1956, and he was consecrated to Our Lady of Good Counsel. The 2nd child Maria Zita (Mariolina) was born on 11th December 1957, and their 3rd child Laura (Lauretta) was born on 15th July 1959.

Gianna loved children, suggested by her choice of work, desire to have a large family of her own, and her being a delegate for the youngest people in Catholic Action.

With respects to educating their children, she believed in ‘education by persuasion’. Gianna would say “I can’t conceive of a mother slapping a child... respect this gift” [pg. 82].

Gianna radiated joy and others were infected by her joy. Pietro speaks of her life as a “hymn to joy, a hymn to be happy with the grace of God in our hearts” [pg.81].

She had a clean and good conscience, coming from her Trust in Providence.

She reportedly knew how to strike a balance in life, balancing duty and joy for life, religious practice and time for recreation (e.g. concerts, theatre, ski­ing), attentiveness to children and husband, and care for herself. She took care of her appearance.”

She reportedly had a strong personality and firm character, respected as a professional, yet she was still charming, wise, practical, tender, kind with a smile, and inspired sympathy and trust. She had an attractive feminine dignity and believed in living in grace and transmitting grace. She was sensitive, having an ability to discover the needs of others.

She was a teacher in coping with suffering. She urged Pietro to be ready to overcome difficulties they might encounter. She greatly suffered during all her pregnancies but hid much from Pietro – he only learned about this after her death. He speaks of Gianna facing difficulties without ever complaining.

Gianna’s final pregnacy

In 1961, Gianna became pregnant with her 4th child. Towards the end of the 2nd month of pregnancy, she was diagnosed with a myofibroma on her uterine wall.

Normal procedure at the time would have been a hysterectomy, but Gianna opted for surgery that would remove only the tumor to enable her baby’s life to be saved.

Pietro recalls that Gianna was “firmly convinced that the baby she was carrying was someone to love, to respect, and not an object about which she might exercise her own preference”. She believed that her vocation as a doctor was to support life, not to threaten it. She ordered her husband and the attending physicians to place their baby’s life before her own.

The tumour was removed and pregnancy continued ok. The couple trusted in God’s Providence though Pietro speaks of a ‘dark foreboding’ that periodically emerged at the back of their minds. A few days before their daughter was born, Gianna was reported to have realized it would be a difficult, possibly life-threatening delivery. She was reported to have asked her husband to promise that if it became necessary to choose between saving her and saving the baby, he should choose the baby – saying “I insist”.

She was admitted to hospital on 20th April 1962, which was Good Friday, and gave birth to a healthy baby daughter, Gianna Emmanuela on 21st April 1962 which was Holy Saturday.

Tragically, Gianna developed septic peritonitis and underwent much suffering and pain. She tragically passed away at home on 28th April 1962 aged only 39 years old. As Gianna lay dying, she was reported to have repeated ‘Jesus, I love you’ over and over again. When Gianna died her daughter Gianna Emmanuella was only 1 week old and Pietro her husband was left to raise 4 children. Their daughter Mariolina sadly died 2 years later. Gianna Emmanuella became a doctor, like her mother.


From after her death, many people attested to Gianna’s great virtue, spoke of her love for others, and of her dedication to the Will of God. Her funeral had a large crowd. A priest who attended Gianna during her last week, testified to Pietro in a pamphlet he produced of being convinced of Gianna’s sanctity. On Christmas eve of the year Gianna died, the province of Milan awarded a Gold Medal in Gianna’s memory in a secular ceremony. Cardinal Montini, Archbishop of Milan, who later was elected Pope a few months later, was present at this ceremony and he began with discretion to follow with interest the path which led to beatification. In 1970, Bishop Carlo Colombo sought approval from Pietro to promote the cause of his wife Gianna’s beatification.

Details of the miracles to follow are taken from the following article: The Approved Miracles of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Wife, Mother, and Physician (

First Miracle

In November 1977, Lucia Sylvia Ciriloa, a 27 year old Protestant woman received a miracle of healing of a recto-vaginal fistula which had occurred around 2 weeks after she gave birth to a still born baby by caesarean section. She had begun having pain in her rectal and vaginal areas post discharge and noted faecal matter in the vagina. She was taken to St Francis of Assisi hospital, a hospital which Gianna Beretta Molla’s brother had helped to establish, and here she had the recto-vaginal fistula confirmed. She needed to be urgently taken to Sao Luis for immediate surgery, but this was more than 600km away. To avoid the dangerous journey, Sr Bernadina, a Capuchin religious sister and nurse at the hospital, gazing at a small picture of Gianna prayed, “You who are Father Alberto’s sister, make this fistula heal and keep this woman from having to travel to Sao Luis.” Lucia was healed of pain about this time, and medical examination confirmed that the fistula had been healed. On May 22, 1992, following years of investigation and verification by medical experts and theologians, the cure was officially recognized by the Special Congress of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints as a third-degree miracle i.e. an instantaneous, complete, and lasting cure unexplained by medical science.

Second Miracle

In mid-November 1999, Elizabeth Comparini Arcolino, a 35 year old woman, suffered complications during her 4th pregnancy. She had a large retroplacental clot and a detached placenta. At 16 weeks gestation, Elizabeth suffered with premature rupture of the membranes (amniotic sac membrane) and was advised to have an abortion as there was little hope for the baby surviving and there were concerns that she would get an infection thus placing her life at risk. However, the Bishop of the diocese who had presided over Elizabeth and her husband Carlos’s marriage ceremony when they were working in San Sebastiano as catechists, was Providentially at the hospital at the time, and through Providential events met with Elizabeth and advised her to continue with the pregnancy like Gianna Beretta Molla had done and to implore Gianna’s intercession. Many people were asked to pray for Elizabeth. She was monitored closely and gave birth to a healthy baby at 32 weeks gestation by Caesarian section. Elizabeth suffered complications post birth, but she recovered. Gianna Molla was beatified by St Pope John Paul II on 24th April 1994. On 20th December 2003, the decree “super miraculo” was promulgated by the Congregation in the presence of Pope John Paul II with regards the second miracle i.e. the second miracle was examined and declared valid.

On 16th May 2004, Gianna Molla was canonised by St Pope John Paul II.

On 3rd April 2010, Holy Saturday, Pietro passed away aged 97 years old in his family home. Let us ask St Gianna Beretta Molla, a saint of our time, patron saint of doctors, mothers and unborn children, to please pray for us. Amen.

Charities providing support

For women and families who have been affected by abortion:

Rachel’s vineyard

Abortion and Recovery Care Helpline

For pregnant women facing difficulties related to their pregnancy, who might need practical and emotional support:

Good Counsel Network

Holy Family Sisters of the Needy

LIFE charity

Each reader is advised to do their own research when seeking help from any of the charities listed.