St. Gianna and the working Catholic mom
First, a clarification: All moms work, whether they stay at home or go out and earn a paycheque. For this post, I am defining “working mom” as those of us who work outside the home.
In the twenty-five years that I have been a mother, I have worked as a full-time and part-time RN. I was also a stay-at-home mom for a few years, homeschooling for three of those years. Currently I am an RN in independent practice and own a healthcare-related small business.
The Catholic Church has a patron saint for every situation in life. Working moms have a role model and ally in St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a mom of four who practiced medicine in a time when mothers who had jobs and careers were rare and female doctors even more so. As a registered nurse, I’m especially drawn to her because we both chose careers that care for the sick.
The reasons for holding down a job or pursuing a career while raising a family vary. Some work out of necessity; others because they really enjoy it; still others because we feel we are called to do both. In the biography Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life (Pauline Books and Media, 1994) author Giuliana Pelucchi tells us that St. Gianna “considered her work her mission” and was a practicing physician until “just a few days before her death.”
For working Catholic moms, it’s very easy to lose sight of Christ in a very busy day. The demands of the job coupled with the needs of the family can all but bury one’s prayer life; but from personal experience, I’ve learned that it is in those crazy busy times that we need Jesus the most. The moments we think we have no time to breathe are exactly the times when we need to get down on our knees and pray.
St. Gianna had a thriving medical practice but she understood the importance of beginning each day in prayer. Her biography includes personal writings on work and prayer: “The most essential condition for every fruitful activity is stillness in prayer. The apostle begins work by kneeling. An apostle should never let a single day go by without including time for recollection at the feet of God. … The more we feel the desire to give, the more often it is necessary to go back to the infinite fountain of love that is God.”
As working moms, we often think creatively in order to meet professional and personal obligations. We can apply that same creativity to our prayer lives. Take time to pray in the early morning, on the daily commute, or part of the lunch break. My day begins very early, before the rest of the family wakes up. In the stillness of the early morning, I pray Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. As the family starts trickling into the kitchen, I’m finishing the daily Mass readings. On my morning commute, I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Rosary. Offering up the day’s work with all its frustrations and rewards is a powerful prayer. The day ends with Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and, on most nights, the family Rosary.
For a working mom, one of the many fruits of prayer is the grace of discernment in work-related decisions. Every new opportunity has to be weighed against its impact on the family. Promotions, contracts, relocation, transfers, and working more hours affect the home. A vibrant prayer life helps us to maintain our priorities: being a wife and mother first. With that in mind, I recently turned down a tempting offer to be a nursing instructor. Between juggling family and self-employment, I’m busy enough; accepting a teaching position would have been a bad choice.
The needs of a growing family sometimes means that we have to put our careers on hold. Gianna’s practice grew at the same time as her husband Pietro’s responsibilities as an engineer meant long absences from home. When he asked her to consider giving up her practice, the look she gave him in response discouraged him from asking again. Eventually she agreed that if they had a fourth child, she would give up her practice “even though that would be difficult for me.” We know that she died shortly after Gianna Emanuela was born, giving up her own life for the life of her daughter. If she had lived, would she have eventually returned to her medical practice?
I can identify with her reluctance because of a similar situation in my life. When our sixth child was born, I stopped working for a few years but with my husband’s encouragement, I maintained my nursing license. I loved nursing and hoped I could return to work some day. We eventually had eight children. When our youngest child entered kindergarten, I upgraded my nursing skills and joined a community health team. Part-time hours quickly escalated until I was often working seven days a week, so I resigned. With St. Joseph’s guidance, I was inspired to take specialized courses and entered into independent practice so that I could control my working conditions. Many working moms face similar situations. Committing to prayer and trusting in Providence are the only ways to properly discern the right decision.
Having a job or career while raising a family is both challenging and rewarding. While working outside of the home has some critics, it has become the norm. What’s important for a Catholic working mom is that she feels inner peace and confidence that her decision is the best one for her family and for herself. St. Gianna continues to teach us the proper attitude: “Work can be prayer … if we offer to the Lord all the actions that we perform, so that they might serve His glory.”