The University of Mary’s School of Health Sciences will be named for St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a pediatrician and a mother who died after declining cancer treatment that could have harmed her unborn daughter.
“How fitting it will be to have St. Gianna the namesake of our School of Health Sciences, a saint who lived out this value in her medical practice and personal life,” Jodi Roller, dean of the North Dakota-based university’s School of Health Sciences, said Nov. 1.
The announcement came at the University of Mary’s main campus near Bismarck during the 2019 Candlelight Gala on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day. The gala launched a fundraising effort for the health sciences school.
“Calling upon what her Catholic faith taught her, Molla believed every human life was a gift from God, something sacred to be respected and protected from conception to natural death,” the University of Mary said in a statement.
St. Gianna’s youngest daughter, Gianna Emanuela Molla, is now a medical doctor herself. She attended the gala on behalf of her family and gave her personal approval of naming the school in honor of her mother.
Others at the announcement were University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea, as well as School of Health Sciences faculty.
The University of Mary was founded in 1959 by the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery. It now has over 3,800 undergraduate and graduate students.
Its four doctoral programs include physical therapy, nursing practice, and occupational therapy. It offers 15 master’s degree programs and close to 60 undergraduate majors.
Molla, born in 1922, was an Italian doctor who gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor.
Early in her pregnancy with her fourth child, Gianna Beretta Molla discovered she had a tumor in her womb. Despite the risks to her life, she rejected most cancer treatment because it would have endangered her child.
She died in 1962 at the age of 39, one week after giving birth to a healthy baby girl, who would be named Gianna.
Gianna Molla was the first married woman to be canonized as a saint in modern times.
She was beatified in 1994, and St. John Paul II canonized her in 2004. She is strongly associated with the mission of the family, and has been declared the patron of mothers, physicians, and unborn children.
Dr. Glenda Reemts, chair of the university’s department of nursing, welcomed the name change.
“The naming of our school after St. Gianna beautifully emulates the sanctity of human life. The importance of the dignity of the human person runs deep within our school and within the hearts of our students,” Reemts said.
Lauren Emmel, assistant professor of physical therapy at the university, praised St. Gianna’s example.
“If we can hold our students to the legacy and vocation of St. Gianna as a loving example in her life and in her death, that is something real and life-giving—we give our students something to hope for in their pursuit of studies at the University of Mary,” she said.
The university said its faculty and students will continue to follow the counsel of St. Gianna, citing the saint’s words: “Our task is to make the truth visible and lovable, offering ourselves as an attractive, and, if possible, heroic example.”
The University of Mary’s main campus is near Bismarck, N.D., with a separate downtown Bismarck campus and other locations in both Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D. It offers online education and education at locations in Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Rome, Italy and Arequipa, Peru.