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St. Gianna Beretta Molla's Story

Recently, I spent a few days at a conference that dealt with many issues, including euthanasia, that have preoccupied healthcare professionals in recent months. Although I am not a doctor, I attended the MaterCare International Conference  for  Catholic obstetricians committed to respecting human life at all stages.

As it turned out, as a lay person, I was in good company at the event. Other non-physicians also attended. In the midst of a busy holiday trip, the conference was a welcome break – a chance to ponder some  challenging ethical issues, away from the thousands of tourists milling about St. Peter’s Basilica, just metres from the conference venue.

The conference held some surprises. Many Catholics are familiar with the story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the Catholic doctor who sacrificed her life to save the life of her unborn baby. Gianna Molla was canonized in 2004. St. Gianna’s daughter, saved by her mother’s sacrifice, is now an adult and was one of the conference speakers.

A devout Catholic, Vincent Kemme, stands apart from many scientists in a fundamental way. He does not believe resistance to euthanasia can succeed if it is purely secular. In Canada, many who oppose the practice — along with assisted suicide — do so on the grounds that it’s unreasonable, unnecessary and harmful to society, but they often go no further.

Kemme argues that euthanasia is  a spiritual problem. The practice has sadly gained the most traction in the Netherlands. About 6,000 people will be put to death there this year, up from 2,000 cases only a few years ago. Kemme argues Dutch society has become largely secular, effectively cutting God out of the picture. He believes it is no coincidence that euthanasia has made the greatest inroads there, although the number of cases in Belgium is also on the rise.

By largely excluding God, the Dutch have done what secular philosophers only contemplated. They have substituted man for God, replacing divine law by human reason, which they consider supreme. Despite the grim trend in the Netherlands — a government report some years back noted involuntary euthanasia was on the rise — Kemme is not without hope for the future.

He believes the solution to the euthanasia problem lies in a return to God and prayer. A Catholic group he belongs to practises daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, underscoring that Catholics should avoid judging those involved in euthanasia, recalling the Church’s longstanding distinction between the sinner and the sin. He believes that resistance to euthanasia will succeed only if we oppose peacefully, without judging. “There is no room for aggression,” he told conference attendees.

St. Gianna Molla

For Gianna Beretta Molla, the path to sanctity began in late 1961 with an unwelcome event: the diagnosis of a uterine tumour during the early stages of her pregnancy. At the time, the attending surgeon offered abortion as an option, one that would very likely save Gianna’s life and allow for future pregnancies, should she so choose. In six years of marriage, this was her sixth pregnancy.

Yet, abortion was one option that St. Gianna Molla never entertained. Asked what other options remained, the surgeon offered one with potential, at least from her perspective. He could surgically remove the benign tumour and allow the pregnancy to come to full term. This option was risky  for baby and mother, but offered one certainty: there would be no abortion.

The child was born, and named Gianna. Years later, her father, Pietro Molla, related the sequence of events to his daughter — now a geriatrician in Italy — also a speaker at this conference in Rome. She spoke lovingly of her parents and told the story in her own words:

“Mama prayed that the Lord would save her life and mine,” she said. “Two weeks before the delivery, she told my father, ‘Pietro, if you have to decide between the baby’s life and mine, do not hesitate: choose the child.’”

As it happened, when the delivery took place, it was safe and the newborn was healthy. For her part, St. Gianna Molla survived the delivery, but her condition worsened. In only a few hours, she developed a high fever and severe abdominal pains that did not dissipate.

“After a week of agony, during which Mom often repeated the words, ‘Jesus, I love you,’ her condition continued to deteriorate. She did not want to die in hospital, and so was returned to our family home, where she died, aged 39.”

Gianna, the daughter, named after her mother, has had many years to reflect on the lives of her parents. “Both the lives of Mom and Dad were the occasion of great joy, but also of great suffering,” she said.

Recalling the years her father carried on after his wife’s death — Pietro lived into his nineties until his death a few years ago — his daughter related something he said before his death. “Eternity is not enough for me to thank the Lord for the graces he has sent, in particular, through your mother’s canonization.”

Reflecting on her parents’ lives, Gianna offered her own thoughts, invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Our Heavenly Mother has asked us for an unconditional ‘yes’ to, and our humble acceptance of God’s will, even when we don’t understand it,” she said. “My [experience] teaches me that the Way of the Cross is the way of joy: when we have the Lord on our side, when we follow his holy way, and see everything in the light of faith.”

  • Presentations from MaterCare’s Rome 2017 conference are accessible online at the MaterCare Media website, at www.matercare.com
Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Faith Family

Reflecting the Carillon

Dear Diocesan Friends,

Twenty years ago, Fr. Jack Bastigal suggested that I apply for the position of Editor of The Carillon, which was to become the diocesan communication vehicle from the Offices of the Diocese to the “people in the pews.” Mario Toneguzzi was hired and published first the issues of 1997. At that time, I was running an advertising business, and in God’s time, I was contracted by the Diocese to sell advertising in the publication to offset costs; and to become the new editor in 1998. Shortly after Bishop Henry arrived in March 1998, he had a vision for change in the Diocese. He made The Carillon an important part of diocesan communication during the time of his leadership.

Now Bishop McGrattan is here and he, too, has a vision for positive change in the Diocese. Collaborations at the Pastoral Centre will improve our communication strategies. The print editions of The Carillon will change in format and be published quarterly instead of monthly. This edition of The Carillon gives a glimpse of the new look with more in-depth articles, and much less advertising than in past editions.

In the early days we had an editorial board. Together, we shaped the publication by offering a writers’ style guide that ensured that our writers would write not only to inform, but to give formation, using catechetical resources including: the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, encyclicals of the Pope(s), the Compendium of the Catholic Church, and the General Directory for Catechesis.

We are grateful to the many contributors who made the time to pray, research, and write articles. All of the writers deserve special recognition, but for now, we thank our most regular columnists: Bishop Henry; Bishop W. T. McGrattan; Gabriele ­Kalincak, Director of the Life and Family Resource Centre for the popular Family Flyer;  Dr. Simone Brosig in the Liturgy Office for the articles that offered a current understanding of the Church liturgical seasons and celebrations; Carol Hollywood, for the Library News offering reviews of books and resources, and historical vignettes from the Archives office; and Dr. Gerry Turcotte, President of St. Mary’s University for his column for the past six years.

The Carillon has highlighted many special diocesan events. In particular: Jubilee 2000; World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto; The Bishop’s Cup (hockey game at the Saddledome between the priests and retired Flames’ players); The Bishop’s Dinner; Ordinations to the priesthood – including the four that were celebrated at McMahon Stadium in 2002; Ordinations to the Permanent Diaconate; The Palio Country Fair; the Centennial of the Diocese in 2012; One Rock; World Youth Day at Home in 2013; The Jubilee Year of Mercy 2016; and the Jubilee anniversaries of many parishes, priests, and religious. Other programs and events initiated by the Diocese over the past 20 years include: the Pastoral Care and Bereavement ministry courses; the For Better and For Ever marriage preparation program; Project Rachel/The Song for Rachel; FaithLife; Strengthening Our Parish Communities safety program; Liturgy for the Miscarried; and many more to remember!

What would a publication be without beautiful front cover artwork? We are grateful to have received almost every cover photograph or design as a gift to share with you. We want to give special recognition to the photographers: Ellis Bartkiewicz and Giselle Nerlien, from St. Luke’s Parish; Fr. Fred Monk, now in Medicine Hat; Bandi Szakony from St. Anthony’s Parish, Calgary; Fr. Mariusz Sztuk, St. Gabriel’s Parish, Chestermere; Warren Harbeck, St. Mary’s Parish, Cochrane; Ryan Factura, St. Michael’s Parish, Calgary; Constant de la Cruz, and Victor Panlilio from Canadian Martyrs Parish; and artist, Paty Gasca in Mexico who created beautiful Christmas images that were included on nine of our front covers over the years!

The Carillon has been printed at Calgary Central Web on a “web” printing press for years. I once took my 95 year-old father-in-law to see the production. He was wide-eyed and absolutely amazed to see the professional setup and to learn that it takes only 1.5 hours to print 17,000 copies! After that, it is trimmed, bound, and prepared for delivery over the course of a few days.

Fr. Larry Bagnall (or Doug and Sue Bagnall in the winter months) arrive at the printers at 6:30 a.m. and proceed to drive and deliver each bundle of Carillons to every parish in the city of Calgary, and Strathmore, Airdrie, Cochrane, Canmore, and Okotoks. This is a 9-hour day of driving, followed by the 12-hour day of driving the edition to every Catholic parish door in southern Alberta! We thank our drivers for their dedicated service for the past 20+ years.

The Carillon will continue to be published in the new year. We’re looking forward to new design, new themes, and new articles. Thank you for sending in the Carillon Steering Committee Surveys last month telling us what you want to see in upcoming editions. We are considering all of the answers, and your comments. Please stay in touch by email, monique@adita.com or phone, (403) 295-8124 to learn more about the new publication.

We wish you a blessed Advent and holy Christmas,

Monique and Myron Achtman

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Communications

A Note of Thanks

This is the last of my regular monthly columns as The Carillon adopts a new format and focus. While I never expected to have the privilege of writing this column on an on-going basis, I have certainly become used to the regularity of the project, preparing reflections on the story of St. Mary’s University, and on the story of my own faith in our times, as the subject revealed itself to me month after month. As a lay person, I have made a sincere effort to capture the joy of faith in every day experiences – from seeing and noting funny, misprinted church bulletin announcements, and charity event listings, to sharing misremembered prayers, and the imperfect study of our saints. Through it all I have been blessed with a generous audience, and have been surprised, not just at the wide reach of The Carillon itself, but also at the opportunities, both in and out of church, for me to meet with readers of this humble column.

Recently someone thanked me for writing Small Things: Essays in Faith and Hope, the collection published by Novalis that brought together the first three years of the columns. In truth, I’m the one who owes a note of thanks to the readers for their support, ideas, and generosity of spirit. I have never received criticism from the community for my ordinary effort to put these columns together. On the contrary I have been blessed with kind words and support. So too, has St. Mary’s University, the subject of so many of my columns. For this I thank all of you.

It does seem fitting to be writing this at the close of the year and in preparation for Christmas. There is a sense of reckoning that comes with the end of one year and the preparation for the next, and also a sense of stocktaking. It is a time when we gather in thanks for the gifts the Lord has given us, most importantly the miracle of his Son’s birth. It is a time when families gather to celebrate, to pray and to plan for the year ahead. And it is also a chance to say goodbye.

I want to use this opportunity to thank two special women who played a pivotal role in the shaping of these columns: Monique Achtman, a most generous editor and comrade-in-arms, always quick to offer advice and support; and my friend Helen Kominek, the first person to read each column and provide insight into their improvement, including, at times, a clear suggestion that I scrap my first draft and start again! To both Monique and Helen I offer my profound thanks. And to all of The Carillon’s vast audience: thank you for reading.

  • If you would like to continue receiving Dr. Turcotte’s monthly columns, either electronically or in hardcopy, please send us a note at communications@stmu.ca

Merry Christmas and God bless,

From all of us at St. Mary’s University

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Catholic Media

Educating the Heart

In the hilarious television program Mr. D., the titular character expounds a basic philosophy about teaching. “Mark the smart kid’s exam first and use it as an answer key.” He explains in another episode about the mentoring of practicum students – basically, throw them into the deep end and take a day off. In his standup routine he once told a group of teachers, “I saw a seminar recently, Engaging Students in the 21st Century. It was cancelled. You can’t engage them anymore! Teachers saying, ‘I’m not going to that! That’s impossible.’”

Needless to say, Mr. D. is not actually a role model for us as teachers, though in the way of great parody, he often builds on real situations to make his humour more identifiable. While all of us no doubt prepare diligently for each class, it’s true to say that the workload for teachers is at times overwhelming. And teaching isn’t just about the material anyway. As teachers everywhere understand – it’s how you present information, and how you connect to your students, that can be the difference between failure and success. All this is compounded by the different learning needs and styles of the students themselves. Clarity for one individual can be gobbledygook to another.

For all of these reasons, I think that teaching is one of the toughest gigs on the planet. And yet the world over, masochists keep presenting themselves to take on this challenge. Why? I truly believe that most individuals turn to this remarkable profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. Teaching, in the context of a faith tradition, can be even harder. We live in a secular society, and the dynamic messaging of today’s technology, and the contradictory information that flows to our children, is overwhelming.

The Calgary Catholic Education Foundation (CCEF) is one organization that understands the challenge for both teachers and students. Founded in 2008, CCEF is a charitable organization that raises funds for schools in need – innovative educational experiences, technology, literacy projects, and educational environments – to ensure that no child is left behind. And once a year, on Catholic Education Sunday, the organization rallies to raise funds through parishes and the community to help support educational opportunities and initiatives that are otherwise not funded. I’m proud to say that this year our Bachelor of Education students will be playing an active role in helping to promote the Foundation’s objectives, and indeed that one of our Education students, Vanessa Bitoni, is on CCEF’s Board of Directors. Together I am sure that we will work together to ensure that this is one of the most successful years to date for CCEF.

Our job is not just to educate, but also to do this with passion, so that we can help students find theirs. Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” To which I think we can all say: Amen!

Related Offices Carillon Religious Education
Related Themes Religious Education Catholic Schools

Sharing the Good News of the Gospel

Catholic schools are privileged to share in the saving mission of the Church by providing education in the faith. Cultivating wisdom and virtue by nurturing truth, goodness and beauty, students come to know, glorify and love God. In addition to educational content, these attributes are taught and learned through the practice of the faith and learning opportunities, which integrate instruction with service.

The Truth that we share is Jesus Christ and it is expressed in knowing the truth of God’s love and mercy for each person and by fostering a relationship with Jesus Christ. In the Calgary Catholic School District, students grow in truth through such activities as Youth for Christ, Alpha, pilgrimages, retreats, liturgies, prayers, devotions, and by participating in the sacraments.

Knowing the truth of God’s love, students discover their inherent goodness, learning that they and all people have been created in the image of God who alone is good. Goodness is expressed, according to Pope Francis, by drawing near to others. We see this exemplified in schools in many different ways. One school prepared an image of a large cross made up of paper hands of different tones to demonstrate that all people are created equally and must be treated with dignity and respect. One school provided items for newborns while others spent time with seniors or with the L’Arche Community.

Recognizing that all people have dignity, students experience and know beauty by serving others. Service is fueled by joy that gives hope and affirms the work and action of the Holy Spirit. Each school community thoughtfully selects service activities that provide students with service learning opportunities to help them grow in faith. In Calgary Catholic, students have served others through a variety of activities such as food, clothing and coin collections, justice fairs, breakfast clubs, being in solidarity with the homeless, and more. Some schools integrated quotes from Pope Francis’ book, Dear Pope Francis, to reinforce responsibility to care for one another.

By fostering faith through truth, goodness and beauty, Catholic schools perform an invaluable service. In the Calgary Catholic School District, we work to share the Good News of the Gospel with our students, who can then, in turn, share this with the world.

Related Offices Carillon Religious Education
Related Themes Religious Education Catholic Schools Family
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