A few evenings ago, I had the incredible opportunity to hear the daughter of a saint speak: the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a woman of exemplary faith who sacrificed her own life for the life of her child. Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the youngest daughter of St. Gianna, attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis on Tuesday, May 3 and gave a testimony of her mother – who she affectionately calls “saint mom” – and the life that she led. Gianna Emanuela spoke of her mother’s early life, her call to her vocation of marriage, and her joy for motherhood.
St. Gianna had given birth to three children before she became pregnant with Gianna Emanuela, and, during her pregnancy, a tumor had been found on her uterus. She was presented with three choices: she could abort the child, she could undergo a hysterectomy (thus ending the life of the child as well), or she could only have the tumor removed. Being a medical doctor herself, St. Gianna was well aware of the risks each option presented. She opted to only have the tumor removed, knowing that her life may not be saved. Towards the end of her pregnancy, she told her husband “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it”. Baby Gianna Emanuela was born on Holy Saturday in 1962, and St. Gianna passed away a week later.
During her testimony of her “saint mom”, Gianna Emanuela spoke of the gratitude she has for her mother’s sacrifice. She told us that she begins each day thanking God for the gift of life: “The gift of life is the most important gift, the most sacred gift, we always have to honor and respect and defend it.” As she spoke of her gratitude for the gift of life that her mother gave, I couldn’t help but think of the birth moms that we serve in our adoption program. I had just given an adoption presentation the day before at an all-girls high school in St. Louis. Our social worker who works with birth moms considering adoption and I talked to freshman theology classes about how to talk about adoption in a pro-life way. We talked about how adoption is a brave decision, that it is not “giving up” a baby, but rather choosing life for a child. We answered questions about birth moms and the adoption process, as well as about foster care, our expectant parent program, and our maternity shelter.
As I thought about the sacrifice that St. Gianna made to give of her life for the sake of her daughter, I was so moved by the thought of birth moms choosing life for their babies. How brave of a decision that is! I began to draw parallels between St. Gianna’s decision to risk her own life for her child’s and the decisions birth moms make every day to give their child a better life than they might be able to provide themselves. To be able to give so sacrificially of one’s body to carry a child to term, to give so emotionally to endure the grief, pain, and sadness that birth moms often feel, and to love so beautifully, so strongly, so completely to entrust the life of their child into the arms of a willing and waiting couple. I was moved to tears during Mass thinking about an adoption placement that had recently taken place, of the sacrifice that birth mom made for the life of her little one, and the joy of life for the birth mom, the adoptive mom and dad, and their families. What a selfless, strong, and brave gift of life that this birth mom gave to both her baby and her baby’s adoptive parents.
Looking around the cathedral during Mass, I found myself surrounded by babies, kids, moms, and families. St. Gianna is the patron of unborn babies and mothers, two groups that we serve through our programs. There were many visibly pregnant women in attendance, as many couples struggling with infertility have prayed through the intercession of St. Gianna and have been blessed with children. Mothers (and fathers) had their babies in slings, in pumpkin seats, on their laps, and in their arms throughout the evening. Babies and toddlers cooed, babbled, and cried all around us. As these little ones created a rousing chorus of tiny voices throughout Mass and throughout Gianna’s presentation, I smiled. I smiled in gratitude for the moms who have placed their precious infants in adoptive homes, I smiled in gratitude for our foster moms and dads who have lovingly opened their homes for kids in need, I smiled in gratitude for biological parents who are working so hard on reunifying with their children, I smiled in gratitude for the moms in our expectant parent program who have chosen to seek counseling to have a happy and healthy baby, and I smiled in gratitude for the young homeless mothers in our maternity shelter who have chosen to give life to and raise their babies. I smiled, too, in gratitude for the sacrifices my own mother (who was sitting right beside me during Mass and as Gianna spoke) has made for my brother and me to have life. I smiled in gratitude at the innumerable sacrifices that our clients who are parenting make each day, a reflection of the beautiful sacrifice that St. Gianna made through her everyday living. St. Gianna, pray for us!
L-R: Peggy Hart (friend & Ob/Gyn nurse), Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, Emma Vonder Haar (Good Shepherd Communications Coordinator), Jane Vonder Haar (Emma’s mother)