By Mary Rose Bacani Valenti
We were riding on the subway with a friend of ours a few years ago. He started to tell the story of Chiara Luce, an Italian teenager who was then recently beatified. When he mentioned her name, Richard and I immediately looked at each other. I knew we were both thinking the same thing; we had found the beautiful name we would give our first child – Chiara.
We were five months pregnant with a baby girl. We didn’t know what to name her but we weren’t worried. God would reveal her name in time. There was no doubt in our minds after that subway ride that her name would be Chiara. Well, her first name at least.
Chiara “Luce” Badano is a contemporary saint. She would have been only a few years older than me if she were still alive! She was born in Italy in 1971 and died at the age of 19 from bone cancer. In just 19 years after her death, she was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. Chiara Luce was a normal teenager, sociable and full of life. She found out about her illness at 17, but she kept her love of life and inspired everyone. She loved Jesus so much and considered him her spouse. Chiara suffered bravely, even refusing morphine when her sufferings became more intense. When asked why, she said, “I have only pain to offer Jesus.” As she neared death, she asked her mother to dress her in a wedding dress for her funeral and make her up like a young bride, for she belonged completely to Jesus. She is the first member of the Focolare movement to be beatified and is a true role model for young people today. We hope that our own daughter Chiara will always know her story and understand the love she had for God.
Chiara d’Assisi (or St. Clare of Assisi) is another saint that we thought of in naming our daughter Chiara. Richard has a Franciscan spirituality; to have St. Clare prominent in our daughter’s name and upbringing was important to him.
Our daughter Chiara’s second name is Andrea, after St. Andre of Montreal. It was to St. Andre that I prayed at St. Joseph’s Oratory, while filming the Salt + Light documentary on his life, God’s Doorkeeper. Richard and I had some difficulty conceiving and we prayed to St. Andre (and St. Joseph, of course) for the miracle of life. It was shortly after my little pilgrimage there that we conceived.
Life has been wonderful with our daughter Chiara. She is a source of great blessings for us. But God has graciously showered us with more. To our great pleasure and surprise, we found out in April that we are pregnant with our second. Another girl. It was harder this time to figure out a name, but again, we were not worried. Richard rolled off some names, I rolled off some names, but nothing clicked. One day at the park, while pushing our two-year-old daughter Chiara on the swings, her name came to me – Gianna. St. Gianna Molla was the first saint that Salt + Light produced a documentary on, Love is a Choice. When I told Richard about this inspiration, he immediately agreed that that was the name. I remembered how Richard and I were both drawn to Gianna Molla’s story and to how beautiful she was. We were also privileged to have met members of her family and experience her holiness through them.
Gianna Beretta Molla, like Chiara Badano, is a contemporary saint. She died at 39 years old in 1962, which is only a little more than a decade before I was born. She was born in Italy in 1922 and like, Chiara Badano, was full of life. She loved the outdoors, enjoying skiing and mountain climbing in particular. She became a medical doctor and paid special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor. Having discerned her vocation to marriage, she married an engineer named Pietro Molla. Gianna wanted to form a truly Christian family, and she gave herself completely to this with Pietro. Work sometimes had to separate the two of them, and Richard and I have read the compilation of their love letters with such admiration. They were the letters of saints in love!
Pietro and Gianna had four children, although one of them died at an early age. It was with the fourth child that the complication happened that took Gianna’s life. She had developed a fibroma in her uterus which made her pregnancy risky. However, she gave her life in order to save the life of her child. “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child.” On April 28, 1962, despite the unbearable pain she was experiencing, she exclaimed repeatedly, “Jesus, I love you.” And then she died. Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994, during the International Year of the Family, and was canonized by him ten years later. As a woman who loved life completely and gave herself with a passion to forming a Christian family, St. Gianna Molla is a great patron for our second daughter.
And of course, to preserve our love of the Franciscan spirituality, our daughter Gianna’s second name is Francesca, after St. Francis of Assisi. We hope that his love of simplicity and all things will inspire our daughter’s life. We were also thinking of our present pope, Pope Francis, in giving the name Francesca. Pope Francis in his simplicity and humility has made our love of the simple life even stronger. “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
These saints who inspired our daughters’ names, they all lived a simple life. A life free of attachments that are not God. A life lived completely for him. Christmas this year will be very special, because our baby Gianna Francesca is due around that time. We cannot wait to tell her her name and the stories of the saints behind it.
But even before Christmas, there is All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Richard, Chiara and I will celebrate this day with all our saintly friends. And we will continue to ask them to help our little family and all families to walk firmly and faithfully on the road to sainthood.
Photo courtesy of the Valentis