Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Admittedly, I know very little about the modern saints, the less-well-known saints. So, when The Catholic Company had this book on St. Gianna Beretta Molla available for review, my interest was piqued. A saint who (had she lived) would be the same age as my mother-in-law? Fascinating.

"A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love" is a short, easy read about the life of St. Gianna. This book gives us a very personal look into the life and the thoughts of this mother, wife, and physician.

Beginning with a letter from her husband, and filled with photographs of St. Gianna and her family, Thomas McKenna introduced me to this holy and faithful woman. St. Gianna was raised in Italy in the early decades of the 20th century. She grew up faithful to the Catholic Church, attending daily mass and praying often. She was trained as a pediatrician, and considered taking her training into missionary work. However, she was, instead, called to marriage and motherhood.

In 1961, this mother of 3 children under age 4 became pregnant again. She learned early on that she had a fibroid tumor in her uterus. She chose the most dangerous course of treatment for herself: removal of the tumor while protecting her unborn child. Throughout the remainder of this high-risk pregnancy, Gianna repeatedly told her husband that if he ever had to choose between the health of her baby or herself, to choose the baby. Her daughter, Gianna Emmanuela, was born healthy and full-term in April 1962. St. Gianna, however, suffered from septic peritonitis as a result of the birth and died 8 days later. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994 and was canonized on May 16, 2004.

As I read this book, and looked at all of the family pictures within it (including a really cute picture of St. Gianna on the day of her First Holy Communion in 1928), I did feel as though I was getting to know her. At the same time, though, I was struck with this nagging thought: Really? Yes, she was a good, holy, faithful woman. But, really? There didn't seem to be anything extraordinary about her... lots of holy, faithful women die as a result of childbirth. Lots of holy, faithful people live their faith every day. What made St. Gianna so special that Pope John Paul II canonized her?

A few days later, I had the rare opportunity to sit in my parish church alone, enjoying some quiet prayer time. Again, my thoughts turned to St. Gianna. I was bothered by the fact that I doubted her "saintliness." After a time, I felt compelled to turn and look at the back of the church. My parish is named for St. Dominic Savio, and we have a statue of the saint in the back of the church. St. Dominic Savio was a holy, faithful boy - a student of St. John Bosco - who died of an illness at age 15. Four years of preparing Sunday school lessons on our patron saint, and I don't know much more than that about him. He was a good, holy, faithful boy, who died a tragic, young death.

As I sat in my church, I began to understand. Perhaps the gift of these "ordinary" saints - St. Gianna Beretta Molla and St. Dominic Savio - is that they show us that sainthood really is possible, even for us "ordinary" folks. We can't all be great mystics and doctors of the church. We can't all renounce all our belongings and start our own religious orders. But what we can all do is live each day for Christ. Be faithful to the Church. Love one another in our words and in our deeds. Be an example to each other. And that is exactly what St. Gianna is for me... a real-life example of a loving, devoted mother and wife, who loved God more than herself, and showed that love in living and in dying.

"A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love" is the perfect title for this short but informative biography. This is a book I will be passing along to my friends. If there is one thing us mothers need, it's more examples of the holiness of our vocation. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, please pray for us.

1 comment:

  1. One of the reasons I love St. Gianna so much is that she IS so approachable. She lived in this modern world, yet kept her faith strong and inspired others continually. Great review, and I'm glad you understood the reasons for her sainthood :)