COSTA MESA -- Msgr. Joseph Sharpe, longtime priest, educator and
adventurer, died of cancer Tuesday night. He was 85.
Sharpe was best known in the Newport-Mesa area for his straightforward
sermons at St. John The Baptist Church in Costa Mesa, where he presided
from 1976-78, and at St. John Vianney Chapel on Balboa Island, where he
presided for 20 years until 1998.
As monsignor at St. Vianney, Sharpe led major efforts in 1996 to renovate the church, complete with a redecorated interior, a new stained-glass
mural above the main doorway and a new electric organ. A courtyard at the
church is expected to be dedicated to Sharpe.
Parishioners described Sharpe as "complex" and "hard to please," as well
as "loyal," "intellectual," "compassionate" and having a "wry sense of
"He was a wonderful, compassionate, holy man," said FrankMcNamara, a
parishioner and architect who worked on the renovation of St.
Sharpe was born in Denver and was the sixth of eight children. In 1943,
Sharpe was ordained at St. Vibiana's Catholic Church in Los Angeles. He
earned a doctoral degree in educational psychology and a law degree, and
he spoke German and French.
Sharpe served as a Navy chaplain for 26 years, retiring as a commander.
He was licensed to fly helicopters, single- and twin-engined planes, and
owned a Beechcraft Bonanza A36, which he kept at John Wayne Airport until
three years ago. Sharpe also owned a yacht docked at Newport Harbor,
which he donated to the Sea Scouts.
Before settling in the area, Sharpe worked as a superintendent for high
schools and as a college professor in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In
the 1950s, he was the first principal at Pius X High School in Downey,
the archdiocese's first coed school.
"I spent my life trying to please him," said Costa Mesa resident Dorothy
Jean, who was one of Sharpe's first students at Pius X. "I'm going to
miss him terribly."
Sharpe was honored for his work by being named a Knight Commander of the
Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which was founded
during the 11th century and is the oldest knighthood in the world.
Sharpe is survived by his sister, Sister Patrick Marie, a retired nun
living in San Diego; and his brother, Father John Sharpe, who lives in
Services for Sharpe will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Vincent's Church
in Los Angeles, and at Cunningham & O'Connor Mortuary, Los Angeles.