Gianna Beretta Molla

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Saint Gianna Beretta Molla
Born (1922-10-04)4 October 1922
Magenta, Kingdom of Italy
Died 28 April 1962(1962-04-28) (aged 39)
Monza, Italy
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 24 April 1994, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Canonized 16 May 2004, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Feast April 28
  • Mothers
  • Physicians
  • Unborn children
  • World Meeting of Families 2015 (co-patron)

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (4 October 1922 – 28 April 1962) was an Italian pediatrician who was also a wife and a mother. Molla refused both an abortion and a hysterectomy when she was pregnant with her fourth child, despite knowing that continuing with the pregnancy could result in her own death, as it in fact did.

She was canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 2004.[1]

Biographical details[edit]

Early life[edit]

Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta in the Kingdom of Italy in 1922. She was the tenth of thirteen children in her family, only eight 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 Beretta began her study of medicine in Milan. Outside of her schooling, she was active in Azione Cattolica. She received a medical diploma in 1949, and opened an office in Mesero, near her hometown of Magenta, where she specialized in pediatrics.

Beretta hoped to join her brother, a missionary priest in Brazil, where she intended to offer gynecological services to poor women. However, her chronic ill health made this impractical, and she continued her practice in Italy.

Engagement and marriage[edit]

In December 1954, Beretta 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.

Molla gave birth to three children before her final pregnancy: Pierluigi in 1956, Mariolina in 1957 and Laura in 1959.

Final pregnancy[edit]

In 1961 Molla was pregnant once again. During the second month she developed a fibroma on her uterus. After examining her, the doctors gave her three choices: an abortion, a complete hysterectomy, or removal of only the fibroma. The Catholic Church forbids all direct abortion but Catholic teaching on the principle of double effect would have allowed her to undergo a hysterectomy, which might have caused her unborn child's death as an unintended consequence.[2]

Molla opted for the removal of the fibroma, wanting to preserve her child's life, telling doctors that her baby's life was more important than her own.[1]

On 21 April 1962, Holy Saturday of that year, Molla went to the hospital, where her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela, was successfully delivered by Caesarean section.[3] However, Molla continued to have severe pain, and died of septic peritonitis seven days after giving birth. Gianna Emanuela lives today and is a doctor of geriatrics.


Molla was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 24 April 1994, and canonized on 16 May 2004. Molla's husband Pietro and their children, including Gianna Emanuela, were present at the canonization ceremony.[1] It was the first time in the history of the Church that a husband witnessed his wife's canonization.

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 of pregnancy is 40 weeks, Comparini was told by her doctors the baby's chance of survival was nil. 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.

In his homily at her canonization Mass, John Paul II called Molla "a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love."[4]


Pro-choice advocates have said that Molla's canonisation suggests that the Catholic Church values an unborn child over the safety of a woman. Vatican officials in the past said that although the church admires women who sacrifice themselves to save a foetus, it does not oblige anyone to make this choice,[1][5] but only if the loss of the child comes about as an application of the principle of double effect. The Catholic Church continues to teach that "abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."[6]


St. Gianna is the inspiration behind the Gianna Center in New York City. It is the first pro-life, Catholic healthcare center for women in New York. The Gianna Center provides primary care with specialized gynecologic care.

She is also the eponym of St. Gianna's Maternity Home in Warsaw, North Dakota.

In September 2015, her daughter Gianna Emanuela read a letter before Pope Francis during the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The letter, written by her mother to her father days before their marriage, highlighted the Christian virtues of marriage and called him and herself, as a couple, to serve God in a "saintly way" by what she called "the sacrament of love".[7]



St. Gianna is a patron saint for mothers, physicians, and unborn children.


A litany to St. Gianna Molla has also been written, and may be found here.


  • Molla, Gianna Beretta, Love Letters to My Husband, Guerriero, Elio, ed., Pauline Books, 2002.
  1. ^ a b c d "Pope canonises pro-life heroine". BBC News. May 16, 2004. Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  2. ^ McIntyre, Alison. "Doctrine of Double Effect". In Edward N. Zalta. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2006 ed.). Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  3. ^ "Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962), biography". Retrieved 5 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Mass of Canonization of six new Saints, 16 May 2004". Retrieved 5 December 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  7. ^

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