St. Gianna’s daughter: Parents showed suffering can be embraced with joy

| November 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

Dr. Gianna Molla speaks about her “saint mom” and “holy dad” Oct. 28 at “Take My Hand, Not My Life: Living Moments of Grace at Life’s End,” sponsored by Gianna Homes and other organizations. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Grace in suffering — in daily living and at the end of life — was highlighted in an Oct. 28 event that featured a keynote address from Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Molla.

While aspects of her mother’s life are well known, Molla also spoke about her father and her experience caring for him before he died in 2010 at age 97. She also shared insights on human dignity she has gained as a geriatric physician.

Molla’s presentation was the highlight of “Take My Hand, Not My Life: Living Moments of Grace at Life’s End,” a symposium that included four other speakers on end-of-life issues. Topics included palliative care and the “art” of accompanying the dying person as practiced by the Little Sisters of the Poor, suffering as an invitation to charity, and concerns around the issue of physician-assisted suicide, also increasingly known as “medical aid in dying.” About 200 people attended the event.

Molla speaks of her mother as her “saint mom” and her father as her “holy dad,” and the two of them as equally yoked in their approach to love, marriage and parenting. In a 30-minute presentation, she drew from their love letters and years of living with her dad near Milan, Italy.

She credits her parents’ devotion to Mary, and Mary’s love in return, to bringing them together in marriage. They were married only six years when Molla’s mother died from complications after giving birth to her.

“I accepted God’s will without understanding,” she said. Her mother was doing much good in the world while she was alive, she said, but has done even more good around the world since her death with the other saints in leading people to Jesus.

“I see that Mama, with her exemplary Christian life and death, prayed and gave glory to the Lord,” she said, “and Mama goes on to pray and give glory to the Lord through her powerful intercession” especially for couples who conceived a child after praying to her for help.

As a physician with three children older than Gianna Emanuela, St. Gianna is also admired as a working mother and a devoted wife.

“It is not possible to become a saint in a moment,” Molla said. “She has been defined as a ‘saint of everyday life’ who lived her daily life in an exemplary way.”

St. Gianna was pregnant with Gianna Emanuela when doctors discovered a benign but painful tumor in her uterus that could have hurt her unborn child. Of the options presented her, she chose surgery to remove only the tumor — the option that was riskiest for her own life, but that offered the greatest chance of protecting the baby.

She and the baby survived the surgery, and seven months later, Gianna Emanuela was born April 21, 1962, via cesarean section. St. Gianna developed an infection from the delivery, fell ill and died a painful death at home a week later. She was 39.

She may have had a premonition she would die in childbirth. She famously told her husband shortly before Gianna Emanuela was born, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child; I insist on it.”

While St. Gianna is known for choosing to save her baby’s life at the expense of her own, it was her six-year marriage to Pietro Molla that Pope St. John Paul II highlighted at her canonization in May 2004. He called her a “simple but … significant messenger of divine love” and quoted a letter she wrote her husband a few days before their marriage: “Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.”

As her father’s companion, Molla witnessed his suffering, first from his wife’s death, and second, from the death of his 6-year-old daughter, Mariolina, two years later. In his later years, he also suffered physically.

However, he told her often that eternity would not be enough for him to thank the Lord for the graces he received, particularly being able to witness his wife’s canonization.

“My mom and my dad each taught me about the way of the cross,” and that it should be embraced with joy, because it is closely connected to the resurrection, Molla said.

Approaching suffering in that way and accepting God’s will, even without understanding it, “is the only way which allows us to give a full and complete meaning to our lives,” Molla said.

“My saint parents taught me that the way of the cross is certainly the way of joy, of the most true and fruitful happiness,” she said.

The symposium was sponsored by Gianna Homes, Minnetonka-based memory care residences named for St. Gianna, as well as the Order of Malta’s Minnesota delegation, Catholic Medical Association, Curatio, Minnesota Catholic Conference, and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Other speakers were Little Sisters of the Poor local superior Mother Maria Francis; Dr. Tod Worner, physician and clinical instructor at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis; Susan Windley-Daoust, associate professor of theology at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona; and Michael Degnan, professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas.

The morning event was held at the University of St. Thomas and included Mass at the St. Paul Seminary chapel celebrated by Bishop Andrew Cozzens. The symposium raised funds for the St. Gianna Beretta Molla International Center in Mesero, Italy, where St. Gianna lived.

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