Balboa Island monsignor dies

Susan McCormack

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.

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