Courtship of the Saints: How the Saints Met their Spouses reveals how twenty-five saintly couples, including Joachim and Anne, Joseph and Mary, Elizabeth of Hungary and Louis IV, Gianna and Pietro Molla, Louis and Zélie Martin, and others, met their spouses. From the most ordinary to the most extraordinary circumstances, one thing is clear: Divine Providence was at work. Below is an excerpt.
By Patrick O'Hearn
The Courtship of St. Gianna and Pietro Molla
Few people know that Saint Gianna almost did not get married. Prior to her marriage and for a long time, she considered following her brother Father Alberto—a physician missionary, who became a Capuchin friar in Grajaú, Brazil—as a lay missionary. She asked her relatives to join her in praying novenas for clarity in her vocation. Her daughter Gianna Emanuela describes her mother’s beautiful search for God’s will:
At the same time, while praying a great deal and asking for prayers from others, she was wondering about what her vocation could be, which she considered a gift from God as well; for this reason, she worried about knowing God’s will for her, to be able to serve Him in the best way. She was not in a hurry: she went on to pray until she was sure of the vocation to which the Lord was calling her.
At first, she thought she could be a lay missionary in Brazil, to help her brother, Father Alberto, as a physician. But her body was not strong enough to bear the equatorial heat, and her Spiritual Director was able to convince her that her vocation was different—otherwise the Lord would have given her the health necessary (to go to Brazil); he encouraged her to form a holy family herself too, like her original family had been, while imitating the example of her parents.
In June 1954, at the age of almost 32, she went to Lourdes . . . because she wished to pray to Our Lady of Lourdes to let her meet the man who would be her spouse, the man that the Lord had prepared for her since eternity.
Saint Gianna had a great love for Our Lady as she prayed the Rosary daily from her childhood. Like the best of mothers, Our Lady—venerated in Lourdes as the Immaculate Conception—interceded before God for Gianna. Shortly thereafter, Gianna felt a clear calling from the Lord to the vocation of marriage.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception in December of 1954, she became better acquainted with Pietro Molla, her future spouse. Interestingly, her spiritual director never swayed her in one direction or another, but he did say these beautiful words: “If all good Catholic girls went into the convent, then where would we get our Christian mothers?”
Like Saint Zélie, Saint Gianna benefited from an interior light. We should not seek or expect God to give us a sign when it comes to our vocation. Sometimes God’s will is clear, but in most cases it is not as obvious. At times we must exercise the virtue of faith. Just as a small tree becomes a large tree through much watering and fertile soil, so too did Gianna’s vocation unfold through much prayer and discernment. Prayer, but especially seeking God’s will, is the key that unlocks the door to our vocation. As Gianna once wrote in her personal notes:
“All things have a particular purpose. They all obey a law. Everything develops for a predetermined end. To each one of us, too, God has assigned a path, a vocation, and, besides physical life, the life of grace. Our earthly and eternal happiness depends on following our vocation well. What is a vocation? It is a gift from God: therefore it comes from God! If the gift is from God, our concern must be to know the will of God. We must set out on that path: if God wills, never forcing the door, when God wills, as God wills.”
Yes, Gianna never forced her vocation; rather, she waited upon her Heavenly Father and Our Lady to offer it to her as a gift.
Gianna Emanuela also describes her father’s great desire to have his own family:
“I can say that, on the one hand, together with his great faith which permeated and strengthened every single aspect of his life, my Dad had a great devotion to work—he worked very much, too much! Then, only my Mom was able to save him a little bit from all this work, bringing him to the Concerts of classical music, and to take mountain trips! He had a great affection for his parents and his sisters; on the other hand, he felt the Lord was calling him to the vocation of marriage, and he had a great desire to have his own family. He was praying a great deal to Our Lady to let him meet ‘A holy mother for his children.’ The Lord was really calling my parents to the vocation of marriage just as they thought, because the Virgin Mary had heard their prayers. And so, thanks to Her, their wonderful hearts and souls could meet at last, because they already knew each other five years before this!”
Pietro once reflected on their initial meetings and subsequent courtship and marriage, reflections that ended up being submitted for Gianna’s beatification:
“I met you for the first time in my life at your brother Ferdinando’s doctor’s office in September 1949. I had gone to Ferdinando because I was sick. We said hello and hardly looked at each other. My first impression of you was of an extremely direct, serious person. I saw you for the second time the following year on April 16 at the Magenta Hospital, again in a white gown. You had just finished giving a blood transfusion to my sister Teresina, whom the Lord called to be among his angels a few days later. Again in that extremely painful situation, our glances hardly met.”
Pietro described other encounters with Gianna after she opened a doctor’s office in Mesero, his birthplace; and he testified her patients held her in the highest esteem. He noted, “From the second half of 1950 to November 1954, we had some brief encounters, rapid exchanges of greetings and a half smile on the occasion of your visits to the nurse or your trips from Magenta to Mesero and mine from Mesero to Magenta.” But it was not until December 8, 1954, that they officially met at Father Lino Garavaglia’s first Mass, who later became the Bishop of Cesena. In his diary, Pietro vividly recalled that day: “I recall you while you congratulated Father Lino and his relatives with your kind, broad, good smile. I recall how you devoutly made the sign of the cross before the meal. I also recall you in prayer at the Eucharistic blessing. I still feel your cordial handshake, and I see again the sweet, luminous smile that accompanied it.”
Patrick O'Hearn is an author, freelance editor, and a brand manager for Holy Heroes. His first book "Nursery of Heaven: Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss in the Lives of the Saints and Today's Parents," which he co-authored with Cassie Everts, was released in 2019. His second book, "Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints" was released in 2021. His first children's book, "The Shepherd at the Crib and the Cross" was released in 2022. He graduated with a master's in education from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a bachelor's in marketing from St. Ambrose University.