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Gianna Beretta’s extraordinary family: a workshop for holiness

Monochrome group photo of members of the Beretta family

Association pour la Cause du Vénérable Serviteur de Dieu Alberto Beretta.

Photograph taken in 1946, on the occasion of Fr. Giuseppe's ordination to the priesthood. From left to right: Enrico (future Fr. Alberto), Gianna, Ferdinando, Fr. Giuseppe, Virginia, Francesco, and Zita

Aline Iaschine - published on 01/17/24

Three of St. Gianna Beretta Molla's siblings consecrated themselves to God, and one – Fr. Alberto – has been declared venerable.
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It’s not the first time that saints have come from the same family. In the history of the Catholic Church, manybrothers and sisters, sometimes twins, have inspired each other on the path to sanctity. Such were, for example, the sisters of the Martin family that includes St. Therese, St. Ambrose and his sister St. Marcellina, or St. Louis and his sister Isabelle of France. Then there’s the dozen or so saints that came from the family of St. Macrina.

This seems to be the path taken by the Beretta family too, since the great saint GiannaBerettaMolla was canonized in 2004 and her brother, Fr. Alberto, was declared venerable in December.

A deeply Christian family

Maria de Micheli (1887-1942) and Alberto Beretta (1881-1942), Franciscan tertiaries, were the parents of a family of 13 children. Their lives were not always easy. Five of their children died in infancy from the Spanish flu, and the eldest from tuberculosis at the age of 18. Despite these trials, the parents showed unshakeable faith and trust in God.

As their daughter Virginia would later say, “My parents were two holy people. Dad would get up at 5 a.m. to serve the 5:30 a.m. Mass. Then he’d come back for breakfast and go to work. Mom would then go to Mass at 7 a.m., because before that she prepared everything for my father.” Maria, the mother, attended Mass with her many children. Then in the evening, when the family was all together, they would pray the rosary to entrust their day to God.

Another of the family’s sons, Giuseppe, recounts, “Before learning about faith from books or preaching, we breathed it at home. We touched it with our hands, seeing how our parents spoke to us, loved each other, lived the Gospel, practiced it before our very eyes. They were extraordinary people, with great faith in providence. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have had 13 children!”

Three consecrated children and a saint

Several of the Beretta children decided to dedicate themselves to God. Giuseppe, an engineer, became a diocesan priest. Virginia, a doctor, became a nun and missionary in India. As for Enrico, he became a Capuchin priest after serving a Mass celebrated by Padre Pio. He took the name Fr. Alberto and went as a missionary priest and doctor to Grajaù, Brazil. For 33 years, he devoted himself to his mission, helping the poorest of the poor, the sick, and lepers. For this life of giving and his heroic virtues, he has been declared venerable.

Venerable Fr. Alberto Beretta, O.F.M.Cap.
Fr. Alberto Beretta celebrating Mass as a missionary in Brazil. (Image altered by Aleteia: colors restored.)

Several of the Beretta brothers and sisters attended the beatification and canonization of their sister, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, in St. Peter’s Square. 

Although Gianna wanted to go on a mission in her youth and join her brother in Brazil, she eventually became a mother. During her fourth pregnancy, she was diagnosed with a tumor. She agreed to undergo surgery, but only on condition that her daughter’s life be preserved. She told her husband: “If you have to choose between me and the child, I demand it, choose the child.”

The child was born, but after a few days of suffering, Gianna died. She was proclaimed a saint by the Church for her exemplary life of holiness and her fight to defend unborn life.

As the Venerable Alberto Beretta makes his way towards sainthood, perhaps to join his sister in the procession of canonized saints, the Beretta family may well surprise the Church again in the future…

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