Venerable Alberto Beretta of Milan, O.F.M. Cap.
Ven Alberto Beretta O.F.M. Cap. (1916-2001 A.D.)

Venerable Alberto Beretta of Milan, O.F.M. Cap.

Alberto Beretta was a talented doctor and a Capuchin priest whose sister Gianna is a saint. He is on the path to sainthood, himself. Here is a short biography of his life.

He was born in Italy in 1916, one of thirteen children born to Maria and Albert Beretta. His parents were very devout and took their children to daily Mass. Of the thirteen Beretta children, eight grew to adulthood. Their parents encouraged each of them to study a profession so that they could serve their communities and carry out Christian service. The siblings were Amelia, Ferdinando, Francesco, Alberto, Zita, Giuseppe, Gianna, and Virginia. 

While Alberto became a doctor, he felt called to join us the Capuchins. He was ordained a priest in 1948 after a short interruption in his studies due to the Second World War. On March 12, 1949, he left for Brazil arriving in Grajau on August 2 (after delays along the way).

Because Brazil’s standards did not include recognition of the academic titles obtained in Italy, the young and earnest missionary patiently accepted and repeated the tests of numerous medical disciplines which he had already passed in his homeland. What at first seemed a painful obstacle to be faced became advantageous, because he also had the opportunity to study other specializations and acquire precious knowledge that would be useful to him in his work in the backlands of Maranhão.

In 1950, with the help of his brothers who lived in Italy, especially Monsignor Giuseppe the Engineer, he began the construction of the St. Francis of Assisi Hospital. In 1957 the construction of the Hospital was completed, something unbelievable for the time, considering the scarcity of transportation and the lack of roads. Later Brother Alberto himself felt the need to expand the structure.

Brother Alberto also created Vila San Marino, for the proper treatment of people with leprosy, extremely numerous in the region at that time, and where he made a point of going every day, devoting himself to the sick, as a doctor and as a priest. In this village he tested a practice he learned from a Russian doctor, who taught him a revolutionary technique even today: the use of the human placenta to treat the most complex pathologies using stem cells. 

This hospital soon became a reference throughout the state of Maranhão. His techniques, especially the placental treatment, diligently and carefully treated with an autoclave made especially for sterilization, are known throughout Brazil. That is why the city of Grajaú received patients with various pathologies from the most distant regions of Brazil. Brother Alberto, with his extraordinary training, could have practiced his profession in any developed country of the world, but he chose Grajaú and the region, making such a choice only because he knew that in this part of the world there was no doctor for so many souls.

His final vows into his order were long in coming but In August 1964 he was consecrated in the Capuchin Order. In the intervening years he labored among the people giving himself with the fervor of a neophyte and a saint to alleviate the suffering of the poor who could not reward him. At that time, many Grajauenses who needed medical care, had no resources and were simply left to their own devices. He was at the same time an obstetrician, pediatrician, geriatrician, surgeon, ophthalmologist, general practitioner and many other specialties. With Brother Alberto, a patient was never left unattended, no matter what his problem. This caused crowds from all nearby communities to seek the hospital, turning the place into a sanctuary of hope and charity.

For 33 years thereafter he served as a missionary in Brazil. He did his work in an area where doctors were scarce and he became known for his medical skill. Patients from all over Brazil would travel to seek his care. He also sometimes made house calls to distant regions if patients were unable to travel. 

He opened a medical clinic to better serve the people as well as a home for people with leprosy. During this time, he frequently exchanged letters with his sister St Gianna. He celebrated daily Mass at the hospital chapel and on Sundays he would celebrate Mass in different local villages. 

On December 24, 1981, after 33 years in Brazil, after attending to a father of ten who had an accident that almost amputated his hand, Brother Alberto had a stroke, losing his speech and partial movement. He was transferred to San Luis where he was treated and soon after was forced to return to Italy for treatment  and finally to the house of his brother, Monsignor Giuseppe in Borgo Canale, where he lived for another twenty years until his death in 2001. 

In 1994, he attended the beatification mass of his sister Gianna Beretta Molla. She had died in 1962 after refusing an abortion that would have removed a tumor at the expense of her unborn child. 

Alberto died in 2001 at the age of 84. According to his Vatican biography, He was patient towards the sick, sensitive to listening, trying to transmit the Christian value of suffering. He promoted many initiatives for the poor, sick, and lepers, for which he favored the construction of a hospital. He faced daily difficulties with fortitude and trust in God. He was constant in obedience to the will of the Lord in all circumstances, docile to the ecclesiastical Authority and the Superiors. He lived with passion the spirit of poverty of St. Francis.

He was declared venerable in 2023 and may one day join his sister as a saint of the Catholic Church. Deeply elated for such a news Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo, had this to say about Fr Alberto Beretta OFM Cap: 

I also share the great joy of the Capuchin Community, particularly that of the Bergamo area, for the recognition of the heroic virtues of Brother Alberto Beretta, whose reputation for sanctity is also widespread in our city and in our Diocese. The joy is even greater considering the special gift of a family in which holiness shines in an exceptional way, Brother Alberto being the brother of St Gianna Beretta Molla, whose testimony remains so alive among us. The mortal remains, placed in the Capuchin Convent in Borgo Palazzo, invite praise, gratitude and prayer.

Let us now appreciate God’s holiness from the lips of the Servant of God, the Venerable Alberto Beretta. Thus he spoke of the hospital of Grajaú: The hospital is a sea port, where people from all over come, receive what they need for their souls and bodies, and go to their homes or for Heaven, when the time of trial is over for them. Whereas to his brother Don Giuseppe he expressed a desire and a limit too: I would always like to intern in the hospital everyone I see who arrives extremely needy, but I must also hear what the Sisters decide… for administrative needs… However, by improving the situation economically, the number of people assisted will increase.

The Servant of God not only had developed great trust in Providence, but he instilled this same trust in the people he approached. You are here, far from everyone, even from your loved ones, marginalized for fear of contagion, precisely for this reason you are the people dearest to the Lord, you are the first in his heart! These are the words that Father Alberto addressed to the lepers of Vila S. Marino, after reading the Gospel. Don Giuseppe, who was present, remembers with emotion: Those faces marked by evil took on an attitude of serenity knowing that they were dear to the Lord… Those poor people needed precisely those words to find serenity, strength and hope.

For this great Capuchin Brother priest we can easily apply what Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world Gaudete Et Exsultate: 

The world tells us exactly the opposite: entertainment, pleasure, diversion and escape make for the good life. The worldly person ignores problems of sickness or sorrow in the family or all around him; he averts his gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed. But the cross can never be absent.

A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness. He or she is consoled, not by the world but by Jesus. Such persons are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes. In this way they can embrace Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness (no.75-76).

O God, who in Christ Jesus revealed your face as a Father who bends down and takes care of the poor, of the suffering, the sick and the little ones, welcome our praise and thanksgiving for giving us Father Alberto Beretta, your instrument of love and compassion. Accept our plea today and through his intercession grant us the grace we greatly need. May we too experience your Fatherly love and so, in the joy of the Holy Spirit, make our life a hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity in order that we may become signs of your love towards our brothers in need.Amen. Glory to the Father…

Venerable Alberto, pray for us.

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap