As part of his birthday celebration April 1, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., had the privilege of meeting and sharing a birthday celebration with a very special woman, Claire Sharpe, who turned 106 that day.
Sharpe is a member of the first graduating class of St. Paul School, Cranston, a longtime parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy Parish, and is the oldest resident of East Greenwich, R.I.
She remembers growing up in Rhode Island in the early 1900s. In those days, her family did not have indoor plumbing — the children took baths in a galvanized tub in the kitchen, and often before going to bed, she would heat a brick to keep her warm, wearing her coat as she slept. Sharpe recalls not having electric heating until she was 19.
“We were very poor,” she said. “We didn’t have a cent. But, I learned that pennies don’t count, human beings count. We didn’t have much, but look what God has brought me today.”
And for her 106th birthday, God certainly brought her a full house. On Friday, Sharpe’s home was filled with friends and family, handmade birthday cards and gifts, stories and singing, all for a woman who has lived a life centered on the faith.
Father Bernard Healey, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, organized the birthday celebration for Sharpe. Having suggested that all she wanted for her birthday was the celebration of a Mass, the pastor was happy to make this humble birthday wish come true. Young girls from the parish children’s choir sang for her and several of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to the Sick, who bring Sharpe Holy Communion weekly, came to celebrate.
“Claire is a wonderful woman of faith and joy,” said Father Healey. “She has a deep devotion to the Eucharist as evidenced by the only request she had for her birthday was to have Mass celebrated for her. It was a great privilege to celebrate Mass for her in her home on her 106th birthday and celebrate two great gifts, Claire and the Eucharist.”
Father Ryan Connors, assistant pastor of the parish, said that he counts it as a real gift to have gotten to know Sharpe.
“She has an inspiring faith and I love visiting her,” he said. “Her gentle spirit and genuine kindness demonstrate for me what a life lived for God really looks like.”
After Mass was celebrated in her home, Bishop Tobin surprised Sharpe with visit as well as a special papal blessing and a rosary blessed by Pope Francis.
Bishop Tobin and Sharpe agreed that it's not easy being born on April Fool's Day, but Claire reminded the bishop that their unique purpose in life is to be “fools for God.”
“She is a person with wonderful stories and remarkable faith, with a beautiful devotion to our Blessed Mother,” Bishop Tobin said.
Sharpe credits her long life to her strong faith. Even though her mother was unable afford a gift to give young Claire on her birthday so many years ago, the spiritual gift of faith that she gave her meant “more than millions,” she explained.
“My mother showed me how to love God with all of my heart,” she said. “She taught me to love him and always to thank him,” she said “And even though I’m afraid to go to him, through prayer he brings me so much love that I am losing the fear.”
Sharpe has three daughters, Roberta McMahon and Kathleen Sharpe who live in Rhode Island, and Paula Hiebert, who lives in Chicago. Her daughter Kathleen said that her mother’s faith has brought her through the many challenges of life. Even after the death of her baby girl and becoming a widow, she still counted on God to get her through.
“She has a very devoted faith,” Kathleen Sharpe said of her mother. “It gets her through everything. It’s very strong.”
“Her deep faith is at the center of her spiritual life,” added McMahon.
Sofia Stewart, a sixth-grader at Our Lady of Mercy said that Sharpe shared with the girls that she fears so much for the world and especially for the youth and encouraged them to put hate aside and seek God through prayer.
“It’s pretty remarkable to meet someone who is 106,” she said. “She have us wonderful advice and told us to be kind and not to hate.”
Bishop Tobin thanked Sharpe for welcoming him into her home, for her prayers and for a faith that has inspired so many throughout her 106 years.
“I pray you have peace and happiness in the years to come,” he said. “I am so honored to share this day with you.”
Reprinted with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic.