The Personal Vocation of St. Gianna Molla

ByLuke Burgis
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The full story of the vocation of Saint Gianna Molla is below the video. It is an excerpt from the book on personal vocation, Unrepeatable.

At age thirty-eight, Gianna Molla had three beautiful children from three difficult pregnancies. Intestinal dysfunction, excessive vomiting, and prolonged labor pains were the norm for her.

In 1961, Gianna was pregnant with her fourth and final child. The difficulties started early. In her second month, doctors discovered a large fibroma, a type of tumor, in her uterus.

Doctors gave Gianna three options. First, they could remove her uterus—a hysterectomy. This would remove the cancer but result in the death of the baby. Second, they could remove the fibrosis and terminate the pregnancy by abortion in order to lower the risk of future complications. For Gianna, a faithful Catholic, abortion was not an option because it would be the deliberate destruction of a human life. Third, doctors could surgically remove the fibroma alone and allow Gianna to continue an extremely high-risk pregnancy.

Gianna Molla chose the final option—surgical removal of the fibrosis—¬¬¬even though it carried the greatest risk to her own life. Her mission was clear: She was going to bring her child into the world no matter the cost.

At the start of Holy Week in 1962, Gianna was due to give birth any day. Because of the removal of the tumor earlier in the pregnancy, there was a high likelihood of complications. Gianna knew that her life was at risk. She expressed her wishes to her family: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”

On Good Friday, Gianna’s water broke. Her husband Pietro rushed her to the hospital. Doctors tried unsuccessfully to induce labor. On Holy Saturday they performed a Caesarian section and delivered a healthy, ten-pound baby girl.

Within a few hours of her daughter’s birth, Gianna was in terrible pain. She had septic peritonitis, an infection of the lining of the abdomen, probably as a result of pathogens that spread from her uterus during the C-section.

On Easter Sunday, Gianna used all of her strength to lift her baby girl to her breast and kiss her. Six days later, amid intense suffering, Gianna died. She was thirty-nine years old.

Why did Gianna choose to lay down her life for her child? She had another option—a hysterectomy, if performed with the intention of treating a disease, is not the deliberate destruction of a life, even if it results in the loss of the child as an unintended consequence.

Gianna’s choice was not morally necessary. But for Gianna Molla—for the “I” that could only come from her mouth—it was necessary. For her, the will of God was not an abstract ideal to be deciphered and weighed—it was a free response of love, the fulfillment of her personal vocation in the concrete circumstances of her life. Gianna is a saint not because she made a choice that many others would not have made; she is a saint because she became Gianna Molla. She allowed the love of God to transform her life and fulfill her capacity to love in a very particular way. Gianna’s choice was a consequence of her fidelity to living out of her personal vocation.

The life of Gianna Molla is a continuous unfolding of a call. As a pediatrician, she worked to support life in its earliest stages. As a mother, she lived—and died—to give that same life. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who opened Gianna’s cause for canonization in 1980, said that she was a woman who lived her entire life “as a vocation.”

Her husband, Pietro, said that Gianna felt bound in conscience to make the choice that she made. Her conscience oriented her to nothing less than the fulfillment of her personal calling. Pope Benedict, speaking about the demands of conscience, wrote, “For man, the will of God is not a foreign force of external origin, but the actual orientation of his own being.”

Every bone in Gianna’s body, every fiber of her being, called her to nurture the life of her child. She didn’t count the cost. She grasped the inner meaning of her life and never let go.

Personal calling—what we call personal vocation—is like a secret key of discernment. With it, we’re able to see and respond to every experience in our lives with an understanding of the way that Jesus is calling us to follow him personally.

Gianna’s personal vocation was not revealed only at the end of her life in her heroic act of self-sacrifice. Nor was it “discovered” when she became a pediatrician, and then a mother. Rather, it’s the reason why she became a pediatrician and a mother. Personal vocation is the thread that runs through an entire life from beginning to end.

The mortal remains of St. Gianna Molla reside in a small parish cemetery in Masero, Italy, near Milan. The epitaph on her grave reads: Ha offerto l’olocausto della sua vita alla sua maternità (“She offered a holocaust of her life to her maternity”). In these last words, the logos, the truth and order, of Gianna’s life is revealed: She gave everything to her vocation as a mother because that’s what was asked of her to live out her personal vocation to protect and nurture all life.

Every life carries an unrepeatable “word”—a profound meaning—within it. But will that word ever be spoken? This is our work, and the work of every Christian parent, coach, and educator (and all mentors). We have a responsibility to help cultivate the personal vocations of others. John Paul II says, “this personal vocation and mission defines the dignity and the responsibility of each member of the lay faithful and makes up the focal point of the whole work of formation.”

In order to hear the rumblings of each life’s unrepeatable word, we have to go back to the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word,” writes John, and “all things came to be through Him” (1:1¬–3).

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