VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org)— Among the six people canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 2004 is Gianna Beretta Molla, who accepted the risk of dying rather than undergo a medical treatment that would have caused an abortion. Molla is the first woman of Catholic Action who is proclaimed a saint. She was born in Magenta, Italy, on Oct. 4, 1922, in a family of 13 siblings. She studied medicine, a family tradition. She received her doctor's degree in medicine and surgery in 1949 from the University of Pavia, and in 1950 opened an outpatient clinic in Mesero. Two years later, she specialized in pediatrics at the University of Milan. On Sept. 24, 1955, Gianna married engineer Pietro Molla, also a member of Catholic Action, in Magenta. Gianna had her first child, Pierluigi, in November 1956. In December 1957, she gave birth to Mariolina, and in July 1959 to Laura.
In September 1961, in the second month of her pregnancy with her fourth child, she was diagnosed to have a tumor of the uterus. Surgery was necessary. Aware of the risk, Gianna begged the surgeon to save the life of her unborn child at all costs. The baby's life was saved. In thanksgiving to God, Gianna spent the following seven months before the birth with "incomparable strength" of spirit and dedication to her duties as mother and doctor, the biography issued by the Vatican says. A few days before the birth, she said she was ready to give her life to save that of her child. "If a decision must be made between my life and the child's, don't hesitate. I insist you choose the child's. Save it," she told her husband and the doctors.
On the morning of April 21, 1962, she gave birth to Gianna Emanuela. Complications started shortly after: Septic peritonitis caused her much suffering. On April 28, amid pain and repeating the prayer "Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you," Gianna Beretta Molla she died a holy death. She was 39. She was beatified by John Paul II on April 24, 1994, the International Year of the Family. Her husband Pietro, now 82, and her children were present at the canonization in Rome.
The miracle attributed to her intercession was experienced by Elisabete Arcolino Comparini. In early 2000, the third child Elisabete had conceived began to have serious problems. In the third month of pregnancy, the young mother lost all the amniotic fluid. Without that natural protection, the fetus should have died. But the baby girl was born in May 2000, an event inexplicable to science. Her parents, who had decided to pray through the intercession of Blessed Gianna, called the baby Gianna Maria.