It is with a heavy heart that we inform the USF community of the passing of Dr. Albert Jonsen.
Born in San Francisco, Dr. Jonsen entered the Society of Jesus in 1949, ordained a priest in St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1962, and obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Santa Clara and Gonzaga universities. Doctoral studies in religion at Yale qualified him for a faculty position at USF beginning in 1967. Two years later he was chosen to succeed Rev. Charles Dulles, S.J. as president of the university, the youngest person ever to lead the institution. As Alan Ziajka, University Historian Emeritus, has written, during his three years as president, Dr. Jonsen successfully navigated anti-war protests, keeping local law enforcement agencies off the campus. Affirmative action policies were instituted, an ethnic studies program was launched, and the first lay board of Trustees was established. Shortly after leaving USF, he left the Society of Jesus and married.
Following his tenure at USF, he became chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at the University of California, San Francisco. Most recently, he was chair of the Department of Medical History and Ethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine from 1987 until his retirement in 1999 when he returned to San Francisco and joined the Fromm Institute with his wife Elizabeth (Liz) as students. He served as the fourth Academic Advisor of the Fromm Institute from 2009 through 2017.
A true scholar and leader in the field of bioethics, he authored several books, the most recent in 2005 – Bioethics Beyond the Headlines: Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides? He has also written chapters in more than 70 books and numerous articles in medical and legal journals on ethics, medicine and healthcare. Among the honors received by Dr. Jonsen are the Davies Award of the American College of Physicians and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
Although he accomplished so much, he was a humble, genuine friend to all who knew him. Dr. Jonsen had a big, generous smile which matched his energetic spirit. He was a calm, polite gentleman who especially loved to sit and talk with anyone on any subject, listening intently with genuine interest to whatever his conversation partners had to say. He really understood and appreciated people.
Dr. Jonsen leaves behind his wife Liz and a multitude of friends and loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Jonsen's family and friends during this difficult time.