Jesuit John Lo Schiavo, former University of San Francisco president, dies

by Dan Morris-Young

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One of the most dynamic and iconic leaders of the University of San Francisco, Jesuit Fr. John Lo Schiavo, 90, died May 15 at Regis Infirmary, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, Calif.

During his tenure as the school’s president, 1977-1991, Lo Schiavo shored up shaky finances, spearheaded capital improvement projects, oversaw acquisition of the current Lone Mountain campus, and helped initiate several programs of study.

In 2013, the school’s John J. Lo Schiavo SJ Center for Science and Innovation was dedicated.

“John Lo Schiavo’s influence extended far beyond the University of San Francisco,” the University of San Francisco president-emeritus Jesuit Fr. Stephen A. Privett said in an email from Cali, Colombia where he is on sabbatical. “He was the most beloved and respected clergy person in the City, for his integrity, warmth, generosity and civic involvement.”

Privett and others praised not only Lo Schiavo’s leadership abilities, but his engagement with individuals and families, noting that he was always in demand for baptisms, marriages and funerals.

Lo Schiavo began his half-century with the University of San Francisco teaching two stints of philosophy, 1950-52 and 1956-57. He returned to teach theology in 1961, and was appointed dean of students in 1962, a post he held until becoming vice president of student affairs in 1966.

Lo Schiavo served as rector-president of Bellarmine College Preparatory, San Jose, 1968-74, before returning to the University of San Francisco as rector of the Jesuit Community, 1974-77.

Called “Father Lo” by many who knew him, the priest also chaired the University of San Francisco Board of Trustees from 1970 to 1973.

Immediately following his years as the University of San Francisco president, Lo Schiavo served as chancellor, 1991- 2013.

Perhaps no event during Lo Schiavo’s University of San Francisco presidency gained more attention than his 1982 decision to end the school’s high-profile Division I men’s basketball program after repeated violations of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. The highly controversial move was widely praised for its ethical statement.

Lo Schiavo launched a new men’s basketball program in 1985 under new leadership and demanding guidelines. He himself had been an all-city basketball star for San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory where he had also been class president.

Upon graduation from St. Ignatius, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Los Gatos on August 14, 1942. Further studies took him to Gonzaga University in Spokane (MA, philosophy, 1949) and Alma College for theological studies (STL, Santa Clara, 1962).

He was ordained a priest in San Francisco on June 10, 1955.

Born of immigrant parents in San Francisco on Feb. 25, 1925, he was especially proud of his Italian heritage.

He was preceded in death by his two sisters, Josephine and Lina Lo Schiavo. He is survived by many cousins. Services will be held at St. Ignatius Church on the University of San Francisco campus: a Vigil on May 25 at 7 p.m. and Mass of Christian Burial on May 26 at 11 a.m. Burial will be a private service for family and the Jesuit community at the Jesuit plot*, Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, May 27 at 11 a.m.

*Editor's note: This article was updated after posting to clarify that the interment is a private service and not public.

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