• Jennifer Nelson

St. Gianna and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Relics

“I know by experience how precious sisters are and so the Lord heard my prayers.”

St. Gianna Molla to her sister on the occasion of the birth of Gianna’s third child, Lauretta.


Sisterhood poses an interesting dynamic. Some sisters get along really well, some may not. Regardless of this, sisters have a deep bond created through their shared experiences from childhood. These memories are unique to them and they aren’t shared with anyone else, not even close friends. There is a saying that, “friends come and go, but you have your sisters forever.”

However, those with no earthly sisters need not worry about missing out on this sisterly bond altogether. As Catholic women we have sisters in Christ and our sisters in heaven – the saints. We are so blessed to know that being a “sister in Christ” is a truly special bond. Our shared experiences center around the Source of all Light, Joy and Consolation. We may not have been born of the same mother, but we share the same blood each time we partake in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Christ has bonded us as the Body of Christ and given us Mary as our heavenly mother. This sisterly bond extends from here unto eternity.

St. Gianna, our sister in heaven

What a joy to have found a sister in heaven, St. Gianna Molla. Giovanna Francesca was born on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi in Milan, Italy on October 4, 1922, one of thirteen children. Through the lives and examples of her parents, she grew to be a woman of deep faith and fervent action. She loved deeply and served with a vigor that many attributed to her interior life of prayer and recognition of God’s graces at work in her soul. Gianna was a physician who served with a tenderness that was noticed by all who encountered her in her practice. Her husband, Pietro, said, “…in her profession Gianna behaved as a friend; toward mothers she acted as an older sister, a kind sister who gave advice.”1 Gianna was an accomplished doctor, but I believe she would tell you that her greatest accomplishment was her family. She married Pietro at the age of 33 and they began a family that included four children on earth and two children lost through miscarriage. While pregnant with her fourth child, Gianna was told she had a large tumor in her uterus. Doctors said they could take the uterus and save her life, thereby terminating her pregnancy, or remove a portion of the tumor to allow the pregnancy to progress. This second option would potentially put her life at risk and as a physician, she knew what the choice meant. It was with trust in God’s providence that Gianna underwent the surgery. The pregnancy progressed and her daughter Gianna Emanuela was born on Holy Saturday, April 21, 1962. Due to an infection, Gianna entered into eternal life seven days later on April 28, 1962. She was declared a saint by the Catholic Church on May 16, 2004.

St. Gianna is invoked for many reasons relating to fertility and pregnancy, particularly by couples experiencing infertility. While we are not told much in writings about her fertility journey, we do know that St. Gianna had her first child at 34, which was considered at the time to be later in life, and that she experienced two miscarriages. Infertile couples also request her prayers because she was a physician and, as such, is accustomed to helping people find solutions to their ailments or pointing them to the right physician to help. The miracles that led to her canonization also related to pregnancy and loss.

Miracles and the birth of a ministry

The miracles that Jesus performed through the intercession of St. Gianna which were part of the cause for her canonization included helping mothers and babies. The first medical miracle attributed to St. Gianna was for a woman in septic shock after delivering a stillborn child. Sisters in the maternity ward, knowing of St. Gianna, began to ask her to intercede for this woman’s life and the woman was restored to full health. In Brazil, an expectant mother in her third trimester was found to be lacking amniotic fluid so she invoked St. Gianna’s prayers for the baby to be born healthy. She was indeed, and was named Gianna.

Countless stories have been told about St. Gianna interceding for women who were infertile for years, who had a dangerous pregnancy, or who were longing for a child after miscarriage. These miracle babies are affectionately known as “Gianna babies.” I have been blessed to witness many of these miracles including giving birth to my own baby Gianna in 2007, having been told at the age of 16 that, due to severe endometriosis, I may never have a child. In gratitude to St. Gianna for her intercession I began a small ministry touching holy cards to St. Gianna’s second-class relic and sending them to women in troubled pregnancies or who were struggling with infertility. Sadly, in 2019, the relic was lost and my little St. Gianna ministry was over. It would take the loss of this relic and turning that loss over to God for new life to be breathed into this ministry, which now is a worldwide sisterhood.

Since 2011 when I began the little St. Gianna holy card ministry, I have been amazed by how many miracles have occurred through the prayers of the women, through St. Gianna’s intercession and by Jesus’ healing hand. I witnessed a woman cured of a disease that had made her unable to walk, a woman becoming pregnant after eight miscarriages and no living children, a woman becoming pregnant after two late term losses, and many more incredible miracles. If the situation was very dire, I would loan the relic to the woman in crisis. The last person I remember giving the relic to said they returned it to me, but I could not locate it anywhere. I was devastated. The relic had come to me under miraculous circumstances so I was crushed at its loss. I prayed that St. Anthony would intercede for the relic to be found. I asked for prayers on Instagram and received a message from someone who gave me the email for the St. Gianna Shrine in Italy. I contacted the shrine and asked if they would join me in praying for the relic to be returned. In July 2020, I received an email back and it was from the daughter that St. Gianna gave her life to save: Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla! I almost fell off my chair! She was so touched by my little ministry that she offered to replace the lost relic with an identical card. She said she would put it in the mail with “a few extras”. When I returned home from vacation, I found fifteen relic cards in the mail from St. Gianna’s daughter. I knew in that moment the Holy Spirit was urging me to expand the ministry. In that moment, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Relics was born!