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Gabriel Lenkiewicz (15 March 1722, Polatsk – 21 November 1798, Polatsk) was a Belarusian Jesuit priest, and Temporary Vicar General of the Society of Jesus from 1785 until 1798, at a time when, being suppressed in all Catholic countries, the Society of Jesus was still surviving in Russia.
Early years and formation
Lenkiewicz was born and died in Polatsk, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (today's Belarus), of aristocratic Polish–Lithuanian family. He joined the Jesuits after completing the 'Humanities'. He did his philosophy (1748–51) in Nyaswizh, and then studied mathematics, astronomy and architecture in the Academy of Vilnius (1752–54). This was followed by theology in Warsaw (1754–58) during which he was ordained priest (1757). After a few years of teaching mathematics in Warsaw he was sent to Rome (Roman College) for further specialization in Architecture (1762–65).
Back in Poland he was appointed to teach science at Polatsk (1765–68) but he made himself a name rather as architect of public and ecclesiastical building, including the construction of new premises for the Jesuit College of Polatsk (of which Stanislaus Czerniewicz was the Rector). After the Suppression of the Society of Jesus (1773) he became the right-hand man of the Vicar Czerniewicz, negotiating with him the survival of the Jesuits with Empress Catherina the II of Russia, all the while making sure that the standard of scientific education in Polatsk remained high. To Lenkiewicz, 'quality education' was an absolute necessity if the Society was to survive in Russia.
The Second General (Interim) Congregation of Polatsk
Lenkiewicz was busy preparing the Second General (Interim) Congregation called to elect a successor to Stanislaw Czerniewicz (died in 1785) when news reached him that Pope Pius VI had given a verbal approval (12 March 1783) of the existence of the Society in Russia. At the Second General Congregation of Polatsk Lenkiewicz was elected Vicar General (8 October 1785). Much encouraged by the tacit approval of Pope Pius VI the Congregation Fathers did much to re-organize the life of the Society in Russia, after the first years of disarray: religious life and commitment, education (implementing the Ratio Studiorum), formation, admission of ex-Jesuits, etc. The province of White Russia was then numbering 172 Jesuits (95 priests, 23 students, 48 brothers and 6 novices) There were 6 high schools. Polatsk was the center of all Jesuit activities.
Temporary Vicar General
As Vicar General Lenkiewicz established relations with ex-Jesuits who wanted to rejoin the Society. He developed apostolic activities in the North, but had to struggle to maintain the Society’s independence in the face of interferences of the local bishop. After the death of two strong supporters of the Society in Russia, the local Governor in 1791, and most especially after the death of Empress Catherina the II of Russia in 1796, Lenkiewicz went through tough times. He was heartened however, when her successor, Emperor Paul I of Russia, expressed support for the Jesuits, a few months after her death, in 1797. The hope of the Society being once again officially recognised was becoming closer to its realisation, when the Duke of Parma, Italy, asked for some Jesuits to be sent to recommence work in Parma in 1793. Many ex-Jesuits asked to be re-affiliated with the Society in Russia in this period.
The years when Lenkiewicz was Vicar General were characterized by an improved stability in the life of the Jesuits in Russia, and by the renewal of apostolic activities. Young men arrived from all over Western Europe with the desire to join the Jesuits. Spending 30 years in Polatsk in various capacities Lenkiewicz made of it a renowned place, with its scientific laboratory, rich library, museum of natural sciences, and other artistic and religious resources.
- Marek Inglot: La Compagnia di Gesù nell'Impero Russo (1772-1820), Roma, 1997.
- S. Zalenski: Les Jésuites de la Russie Blanche, (2 vol.), Paris, 1886.
| Temporary Vicar General of the Society of Jesus
1785 – 1798