In Memoriam

Hanns Gross (1928-2006)

Robert Bireley, S.J. | Apr 1, 2007

Hanns Gross, professor emeritus of history at Loyola University Chicago, died at the Luther Nursing Home in Arlington Heights, Illinois, on July 12, 2006, and was buried two days later in St. Paul Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, Bloomingdale, Illinois. A memorial service was held for him on August 27 at the Moody Church in Chicago. His was a long, eventful, and rewarding life from his birth in Stockerau, Austria, on June 20, 1928, until his death.

After the Anschluss in 1938, Hanns' father, Arthur, a bank official, was destined as a Jew for the camp at Dachau, but he escaped and fled to Shanghai. Gross and his mother were saved from arrest only by a sympathetic Hitler youth who hid them from the police. The next year his mother took Gross to England, where she found work as a domestic. But she was able to enroll him at the Emmanuel Grammar School in Swansea, South Wales, where once he learned English he was dubbed "the living dictionary." After receiving his bachelor's degree with honors from the University of London, he taught school in Swansea. Then, following his mother's death, Gross traveled to Chicago in 1961, to be reunited with his father from whom he had heard only intermittently in the intervening years, and to meet his father's new wife. His father died shortly after Gross‘s arrival in the United States, and for many years he lived with and cared for his stepmother. A feature of visits to their apartment was listening to Mrs. Gross play songs from Viennese operettas on the piano.

Hanns Gross continued his studies at the University of Chicago, where he received a master's degree in 1963 and in 1966 his doctorate. He wrote his dissertation under the direction of Donald Lach, with whom he maintained a long friendship. After the completion of his doctorate, he taught one year at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale before he came to Loyola University in 1967 where he became full professor in 1978. In 1999 he retired.

Two major works of scholarship came from his pen. The first, Empire and Sovereignty: A History of the Public Law Literature in the Holy Roman Empire, 1599–1804, a substantial development of his dissertation, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1973, but in microfiche at a time when the press was experimenting with this form of publication. Even though the press later reprinted it in its Midway series, the only original volume in this series of reprints, the book never received the publicity that it deserved. But it was clearly noticed in Germany, where it became a standard work on the public or constitutional law of the Empire. For his second major work, Gross turned to a completely different field, and in 1990 there appeared his Rome in the Age of Enlightenment. The Post-Tridentine Syndrome and the Ancien Regime, published simultaneously by Cambridge University Press and in Italian, with many illustrations, by Laterza. Cambridge has recently reissued the book in paperback. With this volume too Gross had trouble with publishers. One American university press kept the manuscript for over a year before finally declining to publish it. At the time of his death he had been working on a new topic, pietism and the Enlightenment, which seemed to arise out of his own interest in the relationship between religion and reason. He lectured on it at the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in 1997.

Hanns Gross was a conscientious, devoted teacher, and students appreciated him, because of the depth of his knowledge and the respect that he invariably showed them. A diminutive man, he was a familiar figure on campus walking to class with a sheaf of apparently loose papers grasped to his chest, until his wife bought him a briefcase. One undergraduate once remarked to me that he "didn't know anyone who knew as much as Doctor Gross." Yet he never paraded his learning.

Only in 1991, after his stepmother moved into a retirement home, did Hanns Gross marry the former Bonnie Barner. Theirs was a happy match. Gradually, Gross became active in the Moody Church, eventually serving as an elder. In 2004 he and Bonnie moved from the city to a retirement village in suburban Arlington Heights. As they settled in, Gross, always a man of fragile health, learned that he had cancer in three areas of his body. He suffered greatly in his last two years, but he continued to work when he was able; he was completing a review for the AHR at the time of his profoundly Christian death. He is missed.

—Robert Bireley, S.J.
Loyola University Chicago

Tags: In Memoriam Europe


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