Gabriel Gruber

Gabriel Gruber

Gabriel Gruber (May 6, 1740, Vienna, Austria - April 7, 1805, Saint Petersburg, Russia) was the second Superior General of the Society of Jesus in Russia.

Early years and education

Gruber became a Jesuit at the young age of 15, in 1755 and did most of his formation and studies in Austria: Latin, Greek and Philosophy in Graz (1757-60), languages in Vienna (1760-61), Mathematics in Trnava, Slovachia (1761-62) and Theology in Graz (1763-67) where he was ordained priest in 1766.

The engineer

Gruber was an expert in hydrotechnology and architecture, and had also a basic knowledge of navigation and the history of seamanship. In 1769, he started teaching mathematics, mechanics, hydraulics and engineering at the School of Mechanical Engineering in Laibach (Slovenian: "Ljubljana"). The school taught classes in shipbuilding, port devices and structures, and Gruber's wish was to build a dockyard nearby. That enterprise proved to be prohibitively expensive.

In early life, Gruber was a fanatical builder of model ships, and some of the teaching materials at the School of Mechanical Engineering were naval models of his that were made at the school between 1774 and 1783. Before being included in the Maritime Museum collection, these models were kept in the National Museum in Ljubljana. Some of Gruber's other workshop models had been in Pula, Croatia, but disappeared during the withdrawal of the Italian Army in 1943. Other Gruber models exhibited in the Maritime Museum are the Venetian battle galleon, the lagoon cargo galleon, the corvette, the schooner and a framework used during ship construction.

After the Suppression of the Society of Jesus by Pope Clement XIV, in 1773, Gruber remained as engineer at the court of Emperor Joseph II till 1784. He used successfully his skill, and for the next eight years was the architect and builder of Gruber Palace — a vast rococo edifice that was originally his mansion — used for his research in physics and hydraulics. It had also an astronomic observatory. The palace was bought in 1887 by the Carniolan Savings Bank and has housed the Slovenian archives since 1965.

Return to the Jesuits

In 1784, Gruber went to Polatsk, a border city between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Empire to rejoin the Society of Jesus and became a member of the Jesuit community in Russia. Gruber was an active engineer, chemist, architect, painter, mechanic and physician. Under his influence, the college of Polatsk became a famous academy of technical science. He was influential in the court of Catherine the Great, and was close to her successor Tsar Paul I, as well, at whose request he reorganized the technical training in the whole Russian empire. In 1800 Gruber became the first rector of the Aristocratic College at the Saint Petersburg State University.

uperior General

Living at Saint Petersburg, and being a close confidant of Paul I Gruber often discussed with him the affairs of the Society, on behalf of Franciszek Kareu, Vicar General of the Jesuits in Russia. In 1797 he became officially the Assistant of Kareu and ultimately, after the death of the later, Gruber was elected Superior General of the Society in Russia, at the Regional (Polatsk) Congregation IV (1802). That was just a few months after Pius VII had issued the brief "Catholicae fidei" (1801), giving approval to the existence of the Russian Jesuits and making the Temporary Vicar (Franciszek Kareu) 'Superior General for Russia'. Gruber expanded pioneering activities by opening several missions among the Germans in the Volga region (Saratov, 1803), Odessa (1804) and Astrakhan (1805) where schools and agricultural activities were developed. However, politically, problems were growing with Paul I as well as with the local bishop of Polatsk.

Towards reunification

In the meantime the movement towards reunion of the Jesuits was gaining momentum. In the wake of the French revolution political opposition of the Bourbon courts had weakened. In 1803 the Jesuits of the Stonyhurst school in England were made members of the Russian Jesuit province. The 'Fathers of the Faith' an independent group of ex-jesuits received affiliation in 1805. Contacts were established with the ex-Jesuits of Maryland (USA). In 1804, the existence of the Jesuits was officially recognized in Naples and Gruber became 'Superior General of the Society of Jesus in Russia and Naples'. Plans were on to send an overland mission to China when Gruber died in an accidental fire at his Saint Petersburg residence on April 7, 1805.


*INGLOT, M., "La Compagnia di Gesù nel Impero Russo (1772-1820)", Rome, 1997.
*PIERLING, P., "G.Gruber et les jésuites réfugiés en Russie", Meudon, 1999.

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