60 years of Sharp Chapel

As The University of Tulsa celebrates its 125th anniversary, another campus milestone worth commemorating is Sharp Memorial Chapel’s 60 years.

Sharp Chapel today

Robert C. Sharp
Robert C. Sharp

Robert C. Sharp and his wife, Josephine P. Sharp, established the chapel in 1959 to provide a religious Christian education for TU students through work and service. “Mr. and Mrs. Sharp intended that TU students ‘would truly know the light of the world’ through Sharp Chapel,” said Chaplain Jeff Francis (B.Mus.Ed. ’78, MA ’88, PhD ’90).

As an institution founded by and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), TU honors and respects the place of religious life in all its diversity. The university seeks to support and foster an atmosphere in which members of the university community may freely observe their religious faith traditions. Through Sharp Chapel, TU engages in numerous campus ministries that maintain facilities and outreach programs to support and nurture students’ beliefs. Each ministry adds its distinctive identity and voice to the ecumenical and interfaith conversation that articulates the religious life of the university.

Construction of Sharp Chapel in 1959
Construction of Sharp Chapel in 1959

Every Wednesday at noon the chapel invites members of the TU community for a free warm meal and a mid week chapel service known as “Worship on Wednesday (WOW).” “We feed about 120 to 150 students, staff and faculty. A substantial portion of the students we welcome to the lunch table are from non-Christian backgrounds,” Francis explained.

In an ongoing sense of hospitality, Sharp Chapel welcomes all students to come sit by the fire, study or just enjoy a quiet space. “This is intended to be a place of warmth, a place where you can be fed and a place where you feel safe,” he stated.

A part of the legacy

Chaplain Jeff Francis (B.Mus.Ed. ’78, MA ’88, PhD ’90)
Chaplain Jeff Francis (B.Mus.Ed. ’78, MA ’88, PhD ’90)

When he walks past TU’s historic chapel building, Francis is reminded of his time as an undergraduate student, walking by, but never knowing of what happened in Sharp Chapel. “I’d walk by here and think, what do they do in that chapel? There was no overt engagement with the campus,” he said.

Harry Gowans, the first dean of TU’s downtown campus
Harry Gowans, the first dean of TU’s downtown campus
TU's evening division
TU’s evening division

While attending TU, Francis was a member of the Golden Hurricane cheer team, the modern choir and the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity on campus. His connections with TU go beyond studying and ministry work. His wife, Martha (BA ’72), is a TU alumna, and her grandfather was Harry Gowans, the first dean of TU’s downtown campus, which later became TU’s night class location in the late 50’s.  Gowans oversaw construction of the building, and it still stands today as the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma at 6th and Cincinnati. Francis’ family tree bleeds blue and gold with an extensive group of alumni, “this is my family’s home,” he explained.

After graduating in 1978 with his bachelor’s in music education, Francis intended to blend his music background with ministry as he attended seminary in Chicago. After his ordination he served three years in the St. Louis area where he ministered to youth and directed youth music.  There he found his passion working and engaging with a younger generation.  “My focus has always been on youth and their faith development; this became the heart of what I do in ministry,” Francis said.  Following this initial call, he returned to TU to study industrial and organizational psychology at the graduate level to deepen his understanding of interpersonal, intrapersonal and organizational dynamics.

Inside Sharp Chapel's sanctuary
Inside Sharp Chapel’s sanctuary

When he became the chaplain of Sharp Chapel, Francis hoped to make a difference through his work at TU. “I saw the opportunity to give back and open the chapel in a way I never experienced as a student,” he explained. More than 40 years later, Francis has created a welcoming place on campus for not only students but for anyone who steps inside. “This has been my life in many ways. The life of this university is my life,” Francis said.