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Heritage Snapshot: Part 170

By Richard Schaefer
Community Writer
03/22/2023 at 03:26 PM

Jack W. Provonsha, MD, PhD (CME Class of 1953-A) was a Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Christian Ethics from 1977 to 1993 and founding director of the University’s Center for Christian Bioethics in 1984. 

As a youth from a broken family Jack Wendell Provonsha became a shepherd on his Uncle Edd’s ranch in Utah. He was short, slightly built, and wiry, but also intellectually curious and emotionally intense. He enjoyed living alone on the open range with his sheep, dogs, and harmonica. During this time, because of the influence of Loma Linda co-founder Ellen G. White’s writings, Jack decided to prepare for wider service by going back to school. He attended Mountain View Academy, worked at the Pacific Press Publishing Association, and did household and yard work for room and board. 

After graduating from Mountain View Academy in 1938 Jack attended Pacific Union College in California’s Napa Valley. Because he financed his own education by working on campus, he took five years to earn his BA degree in Theology in 1943. He then became a Seventh-day Adventist minister in Utah and Alaska, accompanied by his wife Lorraine. Their joyful days ended when six-months pregnant Lorraine fell ill and died while Jack was on assignment at a church youth camp. His first daughter, Linda, was delivered by Cesarean Section, and thrived.

Jack then pursued his longtime dream of becoming a physician. After completing the necessary prerequisites at Pacific Union College in 1948, the College of Medical Evangelists (now Loma Linda University School of Medicine) accepted him. His mother moved in with him and cared for Linda while Jack studied and worked. During medical school days, Jack married Margaret Anderson, an excellent student a year ahead of him. The Drs. Provonsha completed internships at the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, where their daughter Kathie was born. Jack and Margaret eventually operated a self-supporting medical clinic in Seldovia, a remote village in Alaska, where Jack also became a bush pilot.

Because he was both a minister and physician, some thought he might be an ideal religion teacher for student physicians. In 1958 Jack joined the Division of Religion faculty on the Los Angeles campus of CME, and emphasized that the ministry of healing takes place not merely outside of the clinic, but also in the clinical encounter itself. He advocated the philosophy of Wholism, which implies that the body, soul, and spirit cannot be compartmentalized and are actually a single multidimensional unity. Arthur Bietz, PhD, a minister and psychologist who pastored the White Memorial Church in Los Angeles and also taught religion, encouraged Jack to expand his theological horizons. Jack earned a Master’s degree in Christian Ethics at Harvard University in 1963 and a PhD degree in Christian Ethics at the Claremont Graduate University near Los Angeles in 1967. He taught a number of classes, but had a special interest in the philosophy of religion and Bioethics (how ethics impacts the practice of medicine).

Provonsha impacted Loma Linda University for almost three decades. His classes were always full. On weekends, hundreds of University students as well as established professionals attended his adult Sabbath School Classes. His recorded lesson studies were mailed to thousands of eager listeners around the world. He was in constant demand as an on-campus and off-campus speaker. Many eagerly read everything he wrote.