Giving Witness – St. Gianna, a patron for infertile couples, honored in Manhattan.
One of the Church’s newer canonized saints was honored in Manhattan this week, with an unusual twist. Among those paying tribute to her was her son.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla may be the first saint ever canonized while her children are still alive. She spent her life in her native Italy as a physician, wife and mother. In 1962, pregnant with her fourth child, she developed a uterine tumor. She refused to have an abortion or hysterectomy, and insisted that if a choice had to be made between herself and the baby, doctors were to save the baby.
She died at age 39, a week after giving birth to a healthy girl. St. Gianna was beatified in 1994 and was canonized May 16, 2004. She is honored especially for her courageous witness to life, and she is being promoted in particular as a patron of couples struggling with infertility.
She also was chosen as patron by Gianna: The Catholic Healthcare Center for Women, a facility in Manhattan that offers general health care for women, including special treatment for infertility. All of its services are pro-life and in conformity with Church teaching.
On May 17, Archbishop Dolan visited the Gianna Center for the enshrinement of a photograph and relic of St. Gianna. The archbishop led a prayer service and blessed the image and the center’s offices.
A Mass was celebrated that evening at St. Catherine of Siena Church especially for couples battling infertility, to honor St. Gianna and seek her intercession.
Speaking at both events was Pierluigi Molla, eldest child and only son of St. Gianna. He noted that as a pediatrician she devoted herself to the care of mothers and children. He called the Gianna Center “a wonderful way to honor her memory.”
He remarked that his mother, while deeply devoted to her faith, her family and her patients, also loved skiing, rock climbing and music. In an interview later, he said, “The message is that an ordinary life can be blessed. It’s not necessary to do extraordinary things.” She was canonized, he said, “for how she lived her life and not just for how she sacrificed it.”
St. Gianna’s husband, Pietro Molla, died April 3 at age 97. Two of her three daughters survive: Laura and Gianna Emanuela, for whom she gave her life, now a physician.
The Gianna Center was sponsored by St. Vincent’s Hospital; when the hospital closed last month, the center’s physicians, Dr. Anne Mielnik and Dr. Kyle Beiter, had to find independent funding.
Archbishop Dolan, in remarks at the enshrinement ceremony, told the two doctors, “You’ve really taken Jesus at his word by casting out into the deep.”
“Great things will happen here,” he continued. He cited the center’s “powerful pro-life message,” and added, “We’ve got to get the word out, because our enemies have been successful in promoting the caricature that the Church is against science and technology, and that there are no moral, ethically defensible, technologically savvy ways for couples…to bring about new life.”
“That’s crazy,” he said. “There are moral, beautiful ways…that help a young couple in the most noble quest of all, procreation.”
Among the guests was a patient, Janice Delphin-Kuzmicz of Wappingers Falls. She said that being treated at the center is like “being held in the palm of God’s hand.” She added, “I never thought I could be so at peace in the face of such a tremendous challenge” as infertility.
The sponsors of the Mass were the Gianna Center; the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York, which is based at St. Catherine of Siena; and the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office. The Sisters of Life, who direct the office and strongly support the Gianna Center, took part in the enshrinement and the Mass.
The celebrant and homilist was Father John A. Farren, O.P., in residence at St. Vincent Ferrer parish in Manhattan. In his homily he said that St. Gianna “cultivated a conscious love of God,” and he noted her concern for “mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor.” He also said that “love expressed in family life is holy.”
Many couples seeking to become pregnant came to pray, including RenŽe and Eli Vitrano of Staten Island, parishioners at Holy Family, who have tried for six years to have a child.
“It’s really beautiful and a blessing to hear that there are physicians out there that do want to practice medicine in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Mrs. Vitrano said. “It’s important to be able to go to a place that is grounded in spirituality…It would be going to a doctor’s office where God is present.”
By CLAUDIA McDONNELL