Gianna’s Message


Dr. Gianna Molla lived in the heart of the 20th century as a woman who had it all. The future of the 21st century will depend in large part on whether the understanding of marriage and family life she exemplified will be seen as a model to be imitated or a constraint to be overcome.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962)

Yesterday, gay couples got married in Massachusetts. Last week, the Australian government announced that it would attempt to boost the dwindling birth rate by offering $3,000 to new mothers, with the finance minister encouraging Australians to go home and "do their patriotic duty". This month New Jersey created a publicly-funded research center where embryos will be used for experiments which require their destruction. Last year, Korean scientists successfully created a human clone to harvest its stem cells.

In the midst of all this, Pope John Paul, who today celebrates his 84th birthday, canonized a remarkable woman last Sunday — Dr. Gianna Beretta Molla. The new saint, who died in 1962, was a physician of cultured tastes — she enjoyed fashion, the symphony, and took in the opera at Milan's La Scala — and varied recreations. She painted, played sports, and was a skier and mountaineer. She married the love of her life, Pietro, and with the birth of her children, was a woman as accomplished and as happy as could be imagined. The secret of her joy was her deep Catholic faith.

In 1961, while expecting her fourth child, that faith was put to the test. During the pregnancy, a tumor was discovered growing alongside the uterus. Rejecting advice to have an abortion, Dr. Molla opted instead for a more risky surgery that would protect her unborn daughter. A difficult pregnancy continued, and little Gianna Emmanuela was born on April 21, 1962. A week later, Dr. Molla died, having sacrificed her life for her daughter.

Dr. Molla lived in the heart of the 20th century as a woman who had it all. The future of the 21st century will depend in large part on whether the understanding of marriage and family life she exemplified will be seen as a model to be imitated or a constraint to be overcome.

"May our age discover once again through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call," John Paul said of the new saint yesterday. The reality is that few today, including those in St. Gianna's native Italy, see purity, chastity, fertility, or even love, as having any essential relation to conjugal life.

Margaret Wente, columnist for Canada's Globe and Mail, connected the dots in a recent essay celebrating the birth-control pill as an engine of social change: "The Pill decoupled sex and marriage, and it also decoupled marriage and procreation. The purpose of marriage became mutual satisfaction, not children. And once that happened, gay marriage probably became inevitable."

Some critics have attacked St. Gianna as the latest Vatican salvo in the abortion wars. That's not quite right, as saints are chosen for their holiness and not as polemical points. At the same time though, St. Gianna is the embodiment of John Paul's oft-proposed alternative to the sexual revolution. That proposal insists on the coupling of marriage and procreation, and sex and marriage. It is a demanding proposal. It is demanding because it requires sacrificial love. The life of St. Gianna demonstrates that sacrificial love can be lived with radiant joy.

The alternative is what we are living. Birth rates have plummeted all over the affluent West. If children are a sign of hope in the future, Europe — and to a lesser extent Canada, Australia and the United States — is losing its will to live. St. Gianna, as a female physician with a successful medical practice was something of a rarity in the 1950s. The contemporary Italian woman would find her profession less remarkable than that she actually married and had children. Over in Spain, which competes with Italy for Europe's lowest birth rate, the new socialist government has indicated that it wants to promote gay marriage and further liberalize abortion laws. The Spanish future will have more sex and fewer babies — that is to say a future with less of a future.

The ultimate fruit of the sexual revolution is the decoupling of the future from the present. What is done today must not have an effect on what happens tomorrow; future consequences of current behavior are to be minimized, ignored or, as happens in fertility clinics and research labs every day, destroyed. The sexual revolution was fueled by indulgent philosophy and contraceptive technology, with easy abortion as the necessary foundation. The Catholic Church, in insisting that what has been joined should not be rent asunder, has opposed this promiscuous decoupling — so much so that people who know nothing at all about the Catholic faith know that it is opposed to contraception, divorce and abortion.

The Christian vision of the "coupled" life, founded upon the supernatural coupling of God and man, has taken a beating these past four decades since St. Gianna died. Whether that vision, so joyfully lived by one Italian mother and doctor, proves compelling in this century will determine in large part whether we will recognize our common future.


Father Raymond J. de Souza. "Gianna’s Message." National Review (May 18, 2004).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Review. To subscribe to the National Review write P.O. Box 668, Mount Morris, Ill 61054-0668 or phone 815-734-1232.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is a chaplain at Queen's University in Ontario.

Copyright © 2004 National Review

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