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A Prolife Shrine for the Modern Era

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By Jeanie Mayer

Being pro-life doesn't only entail opposition to abortion and euthanasia. Being pro-life also entails celebrating examples of heroic love, selflessness, and joy.

When the Rev. Matthew Lamoureux, MIC, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Yorkville, Ill., resolved to build a pro-life shrine at his parish in honor of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, he had two main intentions. Firstly, to provide a place of solace and healing for anyone who suffers from the loss of a child, miscarriage, or abortion. And secondly, to celebrate life, specifically by emphasizing a model for contemporary families.

"Today's throwaway culture tends to devalue life for the aged, the infirm, and the unborn," he said. "In order to turn the tide, we need a positive pro-life witness that attracts people to the truth that life is sacred at every stage."

Enter St. Gianna (1922-1962), an Italian pediatrician, wife, and mother who refused both an abortion and hysterectomy despite risk to her own life. She died after giving birth to her sixth child.

Born near Milan, Italy, Gianna loved fashion and mountain climbing, and she also loved the poor and considered becoming a religious sister for a time. Instead, she became a pediatrician and surgeon and eventually opened her own practice. She continued to practice medicine after marrying Pietro Molla. Meanwhile, the couple had three children and two miscarriages before Gianna became pregnant again.

Early in the pregnancy, doctors discovered a life-threatening tumor and recommended either a hysterectomy or an abortion and removal of the tumor. She refused to do anything that would harm the child and instead opted to have the tumor removed, which was risky for her, but the only choice she had to save the baby. She returned to her practice after having the surgery, and seven months later she delivered a healthy baby. Gianna, however, developed septic peritonitis and died a week later.

The image selected for the shrine is of St. Gianna having a picnic with her children.

"We chose this image because we wanted to show Gianna as a mother with her children," said Fr. Matthew. "It is a life-giving image that invites contemplation of her heroic sacrifice."

He also said the saint resonates with people because she was a modern-day woman. She drove a car, there are photographs of her and home movies. She was a wife, a working mother, and a devoted Catholic.

"She is a great modern-day witness," Fr. Matthew said. "In 2004, she became the last saint to be canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was a working mom, which really resonates with people."

The statue, which is being designed by Canadian artist Achim Klaas, will be installed this spring. Fundraising for the shrine is ongoing, spearheaded by the God's Divine Mercy Council of the Knights of Columbus. The parish is planning a blessing of the shrine on May 4 of this year.

For more information, visit stgiannashrine.org.

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