Two months into her fourth pregnancy, Gianna Beretta Molla was diagnosed with a large uterine tumor. Doctors informed the thirty-eight-year-old woman that her best chance for recovery was to have surgery that would remove the tumor but also cause the death of her unborn child, either deliberately or as an unintended consequence.
Alternatively, they could remove the tumor alone. A physician herself, Gianna understood their warning that this last option could lead to complications that would endanger her life when the baby was born. Could she risk her life?
It wasn’t just that Gianna absolutely loved life—visiting friends, dancing, traveling, painting, hiking in the Alps, going to concerts and plays. These pleasures faded to nothing next to Gianna’s love for her husband, Pietro, and their three “treasures”— Pierluigi, five; Mariolina, three and a half; and Lauretta, two. Could she risk herself, knowing she might leave her husband without a wife and her children without a mother?
How Gianna answered this question is perhaps the best-known fact about her life. But neither her heroic choice nor the reasons for her canonization on May 16, 2004, can be fully appreciated without knowing the…
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