A holy couple reunited in heaven

By  Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., Catholic Register Special
  • April 8, 2010
St. Gianna Beretta Molla with her then fiance, Pietro MollaEarly on Holy Saturday morning, Pietro Molla, husband of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, died in his family home in Mesero, near Milan in Italy, surrounded by his daughters Gianna Emanuela and Laura, and son Pierluigi. He was 97 years old and had been in failing health for several years.

I have been good friends with the Molla family since 1999 and St. Gianna is the patron saint of Salt + Light Catholic Television Network. I was blessed to accompany the Molla family in the years leading up to the 2004 canonization of St. Gianna, a great contemporary woman, saint, wife, mother, medical doctor and lover of life.

In Pietro Molla, I discovered a pillar of faith, courage and devotion. During our first meeting, Pietro shared with me dozens of photos in family albums, regaling me with stories of Gianna’s interests in music, opera, theatre, mountain hikes and skiing. He also shared in great detail the final months and weeks of Gianna’s earthly existence in 1962. At her death Pietro became a single parent with four young children. He never remarried.

The Molla children are all close to me in age and we struck up a wonderful friendship that has lasted to this day. Pierluigi and his family welcomed me as one of their own. Laura, my contemporary, is a very intelligent, warm professional woman, now happily married to Giuseppe Pannuti. 

When Pierluigi and Dr. Gianna Emanuela visited me in Toronto in 1999, while I was still chaplain of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto, Gianna asked me to accompany her to two Toronto hospitals that specialize in the care and treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Gianna is a specialist in that area. I watched her in action among her medical peers, sharing stories and research about Alzheimer’s disease and her love of the elderly. Dr. Gianna Emanuela was continuing the healing mission of her mother. 

Over the past 11 years, I visited numerous times with Pietro at his home in Mesero, shared meals with him in little restaurants in town and spoke many times with him by phone. In September 2003, shortly after the Molla family was informed that the required miracle had been approved by the Vatican for Blessed Gianna’s canonization, Pietro phoned me in Toronto and invited me to make the “official” documentary of St. Gianna Beretta Molla’s life. It was an extraordinary privilege for us at Salt + Light Television to be entrusted with that task. Our film on St. Gianna’s life, Love is a Choice, is an award-winning documentary now in numerous languages.

I shall never forget the eve of St. Gianna’s canonization at the Vatican on May 16, 2004, when Pietro called me to his room at the convent of the Sisters of Maria Bambina and asked me to spend several hours with him as he prepared spiritually for the canonization ceremony. What an extraordinary privilege. That night I said to Pietro, “You are from a family of saints and Gianna will not be the only one raised to the glory of the altar.  You will follow.” He held my hand firmly, smiled and wept. The scenes of the canonization ceremony on May 16, 2004, remain engraved on my mind and heart, especially when Gianna Emanuela and her father Pietro were warmly embraced by Pope John Paul II during the moving liturgy. It would be John Paul II’s last canonization ceremony.

I last visited Pietro on Oct. 19, 2008, spending a day with the Molla family in Mesero. I celebrated Mass in the bedroom of Pietro, then 96, surrounded by the three Molla children and their families, as well as several family friends and relatives.

Following Mass we enjoyed a simple “pranzo,” sharing how the moving story of St. Gianna’s life was spreading around the world. I was with ordinary Milanese folks who took the Beatitudes seriously and lived them each day. We may speak of the communion of saints in theological terms, but on that October Sunday in 2008, I experienced it in flesh and blood terms — this group of people was for me the reality of communion of saints in real time: a husband of a saint, children of a saint, nieces and nephews of a saint. They are like us. Their love of God and neighbour, their simplicity, fire and dynamism will burn away the sadness and evil in the world today, not with harshness but with fiery love and ordinary kindness.

From my first meeting with Pietro Molla in 1999, I was convinced then — and moreso after 11 years of friendship — that their story of holiness would not end with St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Pietro was a pillar and rock — a man of extraordinary faith, simplicity and holiness. He lived a remarkable, saintly life and like his beloved wife, Gianna, made holiness something attainable for all of us.

The cause for the beatification and canonization for St. Gianna’s brother, Frei Alberto Beretta, a Capuchin missionary in Brazil, is now opened in Bergamo, Italy. I am certain that the cause for Pietro Molla’s beatification and canonization will be opened soon. What a powerful witness this would be to the dignity and sacredness of marriage and family life.

Laura Molla told me that the Molla family is somehow linked to the mystery of Holy Saturday. It was on Holy Saturday 1962 that Gianna Beretta Molla gave birth to her daughter, Gianna Emanuela. One week later, on Easter Saturday, St. Gianna died. She had refused treatment for a  medical condition during pregnancy so as to safely bring her child to term. St. Gianna gave her life so that the child in her womb would live. And now Pietro returned to the house of the Father on Holy Saturday morning 2010.

Pietro once shared with me what he wrote in his diary on March 7, 1955:  “The more I know Gianna, the more I am convinced that God could not have given me a greater gift than her love and companionship.”  St. Gianna and her husband are now reunited in heaven and celebrate the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising in the company of the Lord and His saints. I can only imagine the scene in heaven on Holy Saturday morning as this wonderful couple was reunited after 48 years of being apart.

Pietro Molla’s Funeral Mass was celebrated on Easter Tuesday, April 6, in Mesero, Italy. He was buried in the town cemetery, next to the tomb of St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

(Fr. Tom Rosica is CEO of Salt + Light Television Network and is a Consultor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communication. This is an abridged version of a tribute given to Pietro Molla on Easter Sunday.)

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