Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, second from left, poses with Michael Magnan, his wife Stephanie and their two-week-old daughter Gianna. Dr. Gianna Emanuela, an English track presenter, is the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian wife, mother and pediatrician who was canonized in 2004 by Pope John Paul II. The Magnans are members of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.

College Park

Dominican sister and saint’s daughter reflect on family power of holiness

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2017

COLLEGE PARK—It was all about family for English track speakers Sister Jane Dominic Laurel and Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla.

The Dominican sister gave practical ways parents can help children “catch” the faith to make it their own. Molla shared her life’s work—to spread the example and spirituality of her mother, St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

Sister Jane Dominic, a member of the St. Cecilia Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tennessee, holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy. She was editor of her congregation’s latest book, “A Short Guide to Praying as a Family.”

“This gift of relationship with God, the gift of faith you give your children is an immense gift that will take them through their entire life,” she said.

Sister Jane Dominic shared top practices that help adolescents make the faith their own as they leave their families of origin. They included a Catholic school education, attending solid retreats with youth who are just like them, praying as a family, and participating in service opportunities as a family.

A mission trip transformed her niece’s life from a focus on material things to serving others, said the nun.

“She was Miss Shopping Queen,” she recalled. “And now she’s a really devout Catholic and a prayerful young woman and I’m so proud of her.”

The most critical factor in helping children develop their own relationships with God is being able to talk to their mom or dad about faith and morals, she said.

What god does your family worship?

She cited a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistic indicating that only 47 percent of households had a father figure.

“There’s a crisis of fatherhood in our times,” she said.

Sister Jane Dominic said it’s important for women to support husbands and fathers and other male role models, such as priests.

The family is the domestic church, according to official Catholic teaching, she emphasized.

“The family is a little holy church. It’s the place where children first learn who God is.”

The nun emphasized the family is the domestic church even when the god worshipped there is the god of success, entertainment, “me time” or secularism.

The video, “Life Is Great: Disconnect and Enjoy,” about turning off devices and being with one another, reinforced her message.

“Have you ever been on the receiving end of disappearing?” she asked. “No one in their right mind would choose technology over their spouse or over their children.”

Take time to reflect on the type of lives you are leading “and make them more pleasing to him,” Sister Jane Dominic said.

She shared a quote from author C.S. Lewis with congress attendees: “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”

“You need to give that love to the most important people in your lives,” she said.

Sister Jane Dominic talked about a village in Croatia where the divorce rate is zero. It is a Catholic village where engaged couples select a crucifix as their first task. For marriage vows, the couples place their hands around the crucifix, wrapped with the priest’s stole. The crucifix is then placed prominently in their home.

“It’s only going to work if Christ is the center of your life,” she said.

Have prayer time as a family and monthly meetings where apologies are extended, she suggested.

“Ask forgiveness of each other. Selfishness is what destroys love,” she said.

A “saint for everyday life”

Molla told congress attendees she wakes up each morning thanking God for the parents she had. She said she wouldn’t be sharing a testimony of faith “had I not been loved so much.”

Her mother, canonized in 2004 by St. Pope John Paul II, was an Italian pediatrician. She sacrificed her life following a high-risk pregnancy so her baby would live. Gianna Emanuela, now a physician herself, was that baby.

St. Gianna is a patron saint for couples experiencing infertility and mothers in high-risk pregnancies.

Molla herself practiced as a geriatrician in Milan. In 2003, she left her profession to care for her aging father, Pietro. Since her father’s death, she works for the St. Gianna Beretta Molla Foundation to perpetuate and spread worldwide the example and spirituality of the saint.

“The sacrifice of her life giving birth to me” speaks to many and her everyday example is a message for modern families, said Molla. She is a “saint for everyday life.”

She affectionately referred to her parents as “my saint mom and holy dad.”

“The Lord loved my Mama very much and she completely responded to his love,” she said.

Molla said she hears daily of her mother’s intercession on behalf of couples seeking to conceive children and women in difficult pregnancies.

She read from Pope John Paul’s canonization homily.

“The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves,” the pope said. “Through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, may our age rediscover the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call.”
St. Gianna was 5 and a half when she received her first Communion. She loved music and painting. “She loved the beautiful things of life,” her daughter said.

She prayed for a vocation, pursued medicine as a meaningful apostolate and was later married. St. Gianna believed following a vocation well could help lead to eternal life.

“She had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary,” added Molla.

Pietro Molla was a mechanical engineer with great faith, but a reserved and shy man.

“In fact, mom was the first one to declare her love to dad,” said Molla.

Wedding photos and pictures of Molla’s siblings were displayed. She said her mother prayed for her future family from the beginning. Molla read letters between her parents both before and after marriage, showing a husband and wife firmly rooted in faith.

“They always lived their life in light of faith,” said Molla.

“Choose the child”

St. Gianna had three children and during her last pregnancy was diagnosed with a benign fibroid tumor. Doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy and have a hysterectomy. She decided just to have the fibroid removed.

She told her husband, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child. I insist on it. Save him.”

“My dad respected my mom’s decision,” said Molla.

After the delivery, St. Gianna had a high fever and died a week later of infection. During her last days, she received a few drops of the most precious blood in the Eucharist, said her daughter.

At one point St. Gianna told her family, “I was already on the other side. I was sent back to suffer more.” Her last words were “Jesus, I love you.”

Caring for her elderly father was a privilege, Molla said.

“Mom and dad’s lives are a powerful example for me,” she said.

Although difficult, they followed the way of the cross, and it is the “only way to give complete meaning to our life,” said Molla.

Because of her gratitude, she set forth on a mission to restore Ponte Nuovo of Magenta near Milan. It was her family’s home, and she hopes it will be a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

Molla said she is “God’s instrument” in this endeavor.

“I assure you my prayers,” she told those at the congress. “I humbly ask you to pray for me in my mission.”

Afterward, Molla spent two hours talking to people waiting to meet her, some asking for prayers. She hugged and gave encouragement to each person.

“Humble” is the word Karla Sanjuan used to describe Molla and the encounter with her after the program.

A parishioner of St. Joseph Church, Marietta, Sanjuan is involved in pro-life work.

“I’ve known about her mother from years ago when the relics came to Atlanta,” she said.

Sanjuan believes it’s the saint’s “love of life” that speaks to people.

The family focus was also important for Sanjuan as she recalled the idea that strong families are weapons against evil.

“It’s very realistic,” said Sanjuan.