Spirituality for Today – April 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 9

Becoming a Saint in This Day and Age: Following the Example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla

By Margaret Schuetz

Growing up, I always thought that in order to be a saint you had to be a priest or nun. Every saint in every saint book was a priest or nun, unless he or she had died really young. If the saint had married, his or her spouse had then died and the saint had joined a religious order. This was a problem, because I wanted to be a saint, but I also wanted to be a mom and have lots of kids. To add to my dilemma, my dad kept telling me I should be a nun. I needed to show him that it was okay for me to get married; I could still become a saint even if I was a wife and mother. That's when I found St. Gianna Beretta Molla. She was the proof I needed, showing me that I could be a saint without being a nun. But she showed me something even more—that everyone is called to be a saint. And she showed me how to become a saint, by doing the will of God, and living my faith daily.

A photo of Saint Gianna Beretta MollaSaint Gianna Beretta Molla

All people are called to be saints. Jesus himself said that He came to save all people, wanting everyone in Heaven with Him. But He calls all people to different vocations. Jesus asks some people to follow him, like the apostles and the rich man: "…go, sell everything, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). To others, Jesus requests that they stay home and spread the Gospel to their family and friends (Mark 5:19). Jesus calls everyone differently, giving each person a different vocation. He emphasizes that what is important is doing God's will, saying, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew19:21). It is not whether we become a priest or nun or get married, it is whether we do God's will for our lives.

St. Gianna followed the Lord's call for her. She became a doctor, specializing in pediatrics and care of the elderly. Open to using those skills however the Lord wished, Gianna discerned between being a lay medical missionary in Brazil and a married doctor in Italy, her mother country. Deciding that she was called to the latter, Gianna married Pietro Molla, and they became the parents of four children. Continuing to work as a doctor, Gianna also assumed her roles as wife and mother. Gianna was faithful to all three of her callings until the day of her death. She thus reveals that married people can become saints. So, if that's possible, that one can become a saint no matter his vocation, how does someone actually, practically become a saint? St Gianna showed me that answer with her life.

Through St. Gianna's life, I learned that one becomes holy by following God's commandments and living a holy life. Throughout her life, Gianna lived her faith and grew in holiness. As a young girl, she prayed with her family and attended daily Mass. She learned to do everything for God, offering all that she did to Him. When she was a teenager, Gianna committed herself to living a holy life. She resolved to continue to do everything for God, to do only that which would help her reach Heaven, such as watching only those movies which would not harm her spiritually, and to pray for the grace to become a saint. During her years at college, Gianna continued to live her faith. She volunteered for Catholic-Action, a lay movement that helped teenagers grow in their spirituality. Gianna used her own experience to advise the teenagers on how to improve their spirituality, suggesting that they attend Mass and pray daily; some types of prayers she recommended included meditation, rosary, and adoration. In addition to nurturing teenagers' spiritual lives, Gianna also protected her and her friends' spirituality by providing opportunities for them to gather and socialize without harming their souls.

Gianna continued to live her faith even in her adult years. As a doctor, she cared not only for her affluent patients, but also for the poor who could not pay her. For all of her patients, Gianna provided for their spiritual as well as physical needs, seeing God in each of them. Gianna refused to perform any medical procedures contrary to her faith, including abortions. In addition to living her faith in her work place, Gianna also lived it at home. In marriage, she was open to the gift of life, as God asks all couples to be. As a mother, Gianna nurtured her children's spiritual lives, raising them in the Catholic faith, praying with them and bringing them to Mass.

Gianna's faith was such a part of her life that while she was pregnant with her fourth child, when a benign tumor was found in her uterus, she chose, out of three options for removing the tumor, the choice that would save her child, even though it threatened her own life. Faithful to this decision, the doctors removed the tumor without harming the child in Gianna's womb. Gianna carried her pregnancy to term and gave birth to a daughter, Gianna Emmanuela; seven days later, Gianna Beretta died. Because of her deep love for God and her child, Gianna chose to die so that her child might live. She followed Christ's commandment of selfless love.

Despite all this, St. Gianna was just a normal person. She liked being outside and enjoying nature, hiking, skiing, and playing sports. Gianna played piano and liked music, including the opera. She went to school, became a doctor, was married, had children, was a mother, ran her home. And still, she became a saint. She showed me that we don't have to wear Roman collars or religious habits to become saints. To become saints, we have to do the will of the Lord and follow His commandments, and one day, by the grace of God, we too will be happy with our Lord in Paradise.