SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CNS) — Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, a pediatrician and daughter of Italian St. Gianna Beretta Molla, plans to open an international pilgrimage site and center in Springfield to help spread knowledge of and devotion to her parents and promote marriage and family life.

“I learned from my saint mom and holy dad to have deep faith and unwavering confidence in divine providence,” Molla said. “The establishment of this international center is one of those times I am trusting in God to show me the way and all those who are involved in the project. I am filled with humility to start this international center so we can promote and help families grow holier together.”

She said she chose the location because of Springfield Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki’s faith-filled leadership and commitment to defend innocent life. She also thought the city’s location — in driving distance of St. Louis and Chicago — was helpful.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla is seen with her children in this 1959 photo. The Italian doctor and mother, who sacrificed her own life for the life of her child, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Springfield)

Ultimately, she said: “It was God who chose Springfield.”

Molla plans to live on the grounds once the center is open.

The St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life will be located near the St. Francis of Assisi Church and the Evermode Institute, which is a new center for Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation.

“For years, Dr. Molla has been searching for a site to honor her holy parents and promote holy marriages and families, and if you want to see first-hand how divine providence can work, the story of how this all came together is the perfect example,” Bishop Paprocki said in a statement.

He said he met the saint’s daughter in a shared car ride to a conference at the Napa Institute in California in 2019 and after that she reached out to him with the idea of the center.

“The excitement of what is shaping up in Central Illinois is proof the Holy Spirit is guiding all of this. To think, Central Illinois will have The Evermode Institute, the St. Gianna and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life, our own Venerable Father Augustine Tolton in Quincy who is on his way to sainthood and Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen in Peoria. This region of America will provide so much grace to people around the world who visit,” the bishop said.

The center is expected to bring thousands of pilgrims to Springfield every year from all over the world as St. Gianna is known as a saint for mothers, families, health care workers, and the pro-life cause, as she herself raised four children, was a pediatrician, and died from complications after giving birth to her daughter Gianna.

While pregnant with her fourth child in 1961, St. Gianna learned she had a tumor in her uterus. Doctors discussed having an abortion to preserve St. Gianna’s life. Instead, she chose to only have the tumor removed, understanding this could save her child but lead to further, perhaps deadly complications for her.

Both the baby and St. Gianna survived the surgery. Knowing she could lose her life delivering her child, St. Gianna prayed to God and told the doctors and her family: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate, choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”

On April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela Molla was born. Over the next few days, her mother experienced serious complications and despite several treatments, died a week after giving birth.

As word spread of St. Gianna’s action, the Catholic Church opened her cause for sainthood. She was canonized a saint by St. John Paul II in 1994.

Attending her canonization was her husband, Pietro, and children, including her daughter, Gianna, whom she saved. It was the first time a husband witnessed his wife’s canonization. Today, St. Gianna is the patron saint of mothers, physicians and unborn children. Her feast day is April 28.

St. John Paul II described her as a “simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.”