GILBERT — Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla — a living relic and namesake of her mother, 20th-century saint Gianna Beretta Molla — captured hearts in Arizona as she shared her family’s love story.
Affectionately referring to her mother as “my saint mommy,” Molla said she continues to learn about her mother through “vivid stories.”
“The Lord chose my mom to be a mother for all of us,” she said. “Every time I come to the U.S. I meet many Giannas. I meet couples married 11 years without children, I meet couples who had miscarriages … and they all say they pray to my mama.
“My mama and the saints lead us all to the Lord and are a powerful help to us.”
The demure Molla, who received a standing ovation from a crowd of 700 engaged and married couples during the “Whatever God Wants” retreat at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert, Sept. 9, read her parents’ intimate love letters that revealed a life of unconditional love and sacrifice.
Her mother, St. Gianna Beretta Molla — who was a pediatrician — is the patron of mothers, unborn children and physicians.
When she was pregnant with her fourth child, the saint was diagnosed with a serious fibroma on her uterus. It was suggested that she have an abortion to save her own life, but she chose surgery as the least dangerous option to her unborn child. Although the operation was successful she continued to have severe pain and told her husband Pietro if he has to decide between the two, “save the baby.”
On April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was delivered via Caesarean section, but her mother died of infection seven days after her daughter’s birth.
“I would not be here if I was not loved so much,” Molla told the couples. A day earlier, she addressed the 15th Annual Celebrate and Defend Life Luncheon with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
It was there Molla said the world needs “my mother’s life with us, and perhaps today more than ever — her exemplary Christian life, her witness [and] her sacred respect for life.”
Molla added “life is … the most sacramental gift we always honor, respect and defend.”
Many people can relate to St. Gianna because as a spouse, a professional and a mother, she was a “saint of ordinary life.” St. Pope John Paul II canonized her on May 16, 2004, and in attendance was her husband Pietro and their youngest daughter. It was the first time in the history of the Church that a husband attended the canonization of his wife.
“When I wake up and open my eyes, I like to thank the Lord … and the Virgin Mary who helped my parents meet,” she said, adding that during their engagement they wrote letters to each other almost daily.
She described her mother’s faith as a gift she received from her own parents and was “ignited by Jesus.”
“My mama liked music, painting, mountain trips and skiing, like Pope John Paul II,” Molla said. “The Eucharist, daily, was her food.”
She also confessed it was her mother that first declared her love because “my dad was shy,” and then read her letter in its entirety:
February 21, 1955
Dearest Pietro, I hope you don’t mind if I begin this letter by calling you by your first name and using such familiar language. After sharing our thoughts so openly yesterday, I think we can assume this level of intimacy, which will help us to understand and to love each other more and more. I really want to make you happy and be what you desire: good, understanding and ready for the sacrifices that life will require of us. I haven’t told you yet that I have always been very sensitive and eager for affection. While I had my parents, their love was enough for me. Then, although remaining very united to the Lord and working for him, I felt the need for a mother, and I found her in the dear nun whom I told you about yesterday.
Now there is you, whom I already love, and to whom I intend to give myself to form a truly Christian family.
Ciao, dear Pietro. Pardon my familiarity, but that’s how I am. Arrivaderci.
Her mother was also a lay missionary with Catholics in Action, an international lay apostolate that was responsible for Molla’s visit to the Valley of the Sun. The diocesan Office of Marriage and Respect Life co-sponsored the visit.
Alfonso and Jacqueline Castillo from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish attended the couple’s retreat after Alfonso said he was “intrigued” to hear from the daughter of a saint but remained slightly “skeptical.”
“It was such an incredible witness to her parents’ love and family life that I was totally caught off guard and my heart was converted,” he said. “Hearing their story renewed me and reminded me the journey my wife and I had as newly engaged and newlyweds. And it encouraged me to be a better husband.”
Alfonso said he was also “inspired” to once again write love letters to his wife.
Others were equally moved with the love story in the marriage of Molla’s parents.
Jason and Lori Raya from St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Gilbert, celebrating their fifth anniversary, were among the sold-out crowd at the church.
“We try to make God the center of our marriage,” said Jason Raya. “We came to grow with the Lord and with others and we are especially drawn to St. Gianna and wanted to meet her daughter.”
Couples also had the opportunity to venerate the relics of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta, the recently canonized child visionaries of Fatima, along with a piece of the holm oak tree where Our Lady appeared and the United Nations Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
Molla, who formerly worked as a geriatrician in Italy, currently works full time at the Saint Gianna Foundation to honor and share her mother’s memory, example, testimony and spirituality.
“Even when we don’t understand, my parents teach me the way of the cross is the way of joy as well …. I imagine each of you have great intentions in your hearts and with joy I’ll pray for you.”