John J. Sharp, 102, sexton at St. Ignatius for decades

September 10, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dressed in his red cassock and white surplice, John J. Sharp, a World War I veteran, was a familiar figure at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on North Calvert Street, where he was an altar server and sexton for more than 70 years.

Mr. Sharp, a diminutive, bespectacled man with a shock of white hair and a peppery personality, died in his sleep Friday at Genesis Eldercare in Catonsville. He was 102.

The indefatigable Mr. Sharp, who lived in the 900 block of N. Calvert St. until he moved to the nursing home two months ago, never let weather get in the way of his duties at St. Ignatius.

Since the early 1960s, when he retired as a highways foreman for the city government, he had been the church's full-time sexton, arriving before 7 a.m. daily to make sure all was in order for the 7: 25 a.m. Mass.

The Rev. William Watters, S.J., pastor of St. Ignatius, said Mr. Sharp was the church's oldest communicant and had served 12 pastors during his seven decades of membership.

"He may even have been the oldest living altar boy in the U.S.," Father Watters said with a chuckle.

"It made no difference. Even on the hottest day he was dressed in a suit, with dress shirt and tie. John was a man of great tradition and a gentleman, and he exemplified the Jesuit tradition of being a man for others.

"John was a man who was strong in faith and in the ancient tradition of Roman Catholicism. He was both prayerful and reflective."

Joseph B. Kelly, a longtime communicant of St. Ignatius and a friend since the early 1930s, said Mr. Sharp "was so dependable and seemed to be there always. Like the bricks outside, you couldn't move him.

"In his prayer, the former pastor, Father Robert Curry, used to ask that John be spared because he couldn't survive without him," Mr. Kelly recalled.

When Mr. Sharp turned 90, Father Curry honored him by naming an adjacent church hall John Sharp Hall in the belief that people ought to be recognized and remembered for their life's work while they are alive.

Mr. Sharp was born in McAdoo, Pa., the son of a coal miner. After attending school there, he held several jobs until enlisting in the Army in 1917 in World War I.

He was a medic with the 305th Sanitary Train until a mustard gas attack felled him during the bloody Meuse-Argonne campaign in France. He remembered German snipers picking off medics who were crawling to aid the wounded.

"There were just too many snipers," he told The Sun in a 75th anniversary interview commemorating the end of the war.

He returned home after being discharged in 1918 and was an autoworker in Detroit before returning to McAdoo and operating a clothing store with his wife, the former Marion Koren. After they went broke and lost the store during the Depression, they settled in Baltimore. Mrs. Sharp died in 1969.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10: 15 a.m. Oct. 4 at St. Ignatius, 740 N. Calvert St.

He is survived by a son, Walter J. Sharp Sr. of Arbutus; three grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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Pub Date: 9/10/98

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