April 28 – Jason, Sosipater, and Cercyra; Gianna Beretta Molla

Jason and Sosipater of the Seventy were disciples of St. Paul, bishops respectively of Tarsus and Iconium, who journeyed as missionaries to Corfu. They had baptized many people, and had built a church to the honor of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, when the governor (or king) of the tiny island finally learned of their existence, and threw them into prison. They converted seven fellow prisoners, who were then fatally dropped into a cauldron of molten tar, wax, and sulfur; but our heroes remained. Seeing their courage, the guard declared himself a Christian, and paid for it with his head. But our heroes remained.

The king’s (governor’s) daughter Cercyra (the third commemoratee of this feast) heard about these goings-on, declared herself a Christian, and gave away all her jewels to the poor. Despite cajoling (cajolery?) and threats, she remained steadfast, so she was placed in a prison cell to be raped by a certain Murinus, but as he approached the door, he was attacked by a bear. Hearing chewing noises, Cercyra bade the beast begone in the name of Christ, healed Murinus’ wounds, and evangelized him. Of course he declared himself a Christian, and of course he was executed. The governor (king) then had the prison burned down, but as the ashes settled, Cercyra was sitting in the middle, filing her nails (figuratively, but wouldn’t that be awesome?). She was finally dispatched by being tied to a tree and shot by arrows, and is accounted the first woman martyr of Corfu.

After killing all the Christians he could find, the king (governor) chased after our heroes Jason and Sosipater, who had fled to the next island over, but his boat foundered and he was drowned, to the dismay of none. His successor managed to nab our heroes and toss them into boiling tar (there being a wax and sulfur shortage that year), but when they started ribbing each other about who lost the soap, he cried out for mercy. Once they were dry, they baptized him, giving him the name Sebastian. They built more churches, and lived to ripe old ages.

Gianna Beretta Molla (1922–1962) was born in Magenta, went to medical school in Milan, and opened a pediatric practice in Mesero. (Italy.) For a while she considered becoming a medical missionary with her brother in Brazil, but her poor health made this impracticable. In a reversal of the usual female saint pattern, everybody else thought she should become a nun, and she chose instead to marry. Once married, she quit her medical practice and settled down and became a housewife. Hahaha. Had you going there. No, she continued her practice, which she considered a legitimate way of serving God, joyfully balancing work and home life. She was “no cardboard saint,” as one of my sources avers, and loved skiing and hiking and working with the lay organization Catholic Action.

When she was pregnant with her fourth child, she was diagnosed with a uterine fibroma. Her doctors suggested she have a hysterectomy, which technically would have been allowed according to the (sometimes confusing, at least to me) rules of the Church, but she refused, hoping to carry the child to term. The fibroma was removed, and the pregnancy proceeded, although not without trouble. Days before the birth she told her doctors, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child—I insist on it. Save the baby.” They did, but sadly Gianna died about a week later of septic peritonitis. She was 39 years old.

She was canonized in 2004 by John Paul II, and the ceremony marked the first time in the history of the Church that a husband was present at his wife’s canonization. The baby, Gianna Emanuela, is a retired geriatrician working (as of September 2017) at the foundation that bears her mother’s name. St. Gianna is, as you might expect, the patron saint of unborn children.