1912 – 1990 (June 4)
John Robert Aherne was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 18, 1912, to John P. Aherne and Anna Bradley. He had three sisters, two of whom entered religious life. John was raised in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, and attended the elementary schools of Immaculate Conception and Saint Francis of Assisi Parishes.
In 1929 John graduated from North East Catholic High School, Philadelphia, and entered Augustinian Academy on Staten Island, New York, as a post-graduate postulant. In September, 1930, he entered Our Mother of Good Counsel Novitiate in New Hamburg, New York, and professed simple vows on September 12, 1931. On the same day three years later, he made his solemn profession at Saint Mary’s Hall, Villanova. After receiving his A.B. degree in philosophy from Villanova in 1935, he studied theology at Augustinian College, Washington, DC, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop McNamara on June 7, 1938. He also pursued a master’s degree in English, which he received from Catholic University in 1939. Later, he would receive honorary degrees from Villanova University in 1959, and Merrimack College in 1976.
Father Aherne’s first assignment, in 1939, was to Saint Mary’s Parish, Waterford, New York. In September of that same year he began his long and distinguished career in education. He was assigned to Villanova Preparatory School in Ojai, California, and in 1942 was transferred to Saint Augustine High School in San Diego. In 1953 he was appointed prior of the Augustinian community at Saint Augustine and rector of the high school. During the summer he taught courses at the extension school of Saint Mary’s College and for five years was diocesan director of the Catholic Book Week. He established and served on the Association of Catholic Secondary School Administrators for the diocese of San Diego and was an active member of the Western Educational Association for accreditation.
In 1959, Father Aherne was appointed commissary provincial of the Vice Province of Saint Augustine, a position he held until 1962. In that year he was assigned to Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, where he became academic vice-president and taught English. In 1968 he became president of Merrimack College, and as such contributed to the physical expansion of the school, introduced curriculum changes, and initiated new programs in business administration and engineering.
Following his resignation as president in 1975, Father Aherne directed his energy toward fund-raising for the college. He also served on the boards of Villanova University and Chestnut Hill College in Pennsylvania and Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Massachusetts. From 1976 to 1978, he was chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissions. A master of the English language, Father Aherne wrote and had published several volumes of poetry and contributed articles for the Encyclopedia Dictionary of Religions, of which he was associate editor. His erudition and dry wit made him a much sought after speaker. During his years of retirement at the monastery on the Merrimack campus, his eyesight began to fail, but not his keen power of observation and humor. Following a protracted illness, he passed away on June 4, at Our Mother of Good Counsel Monastery. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated June 7 at Merrimack College. On the following day another Mass was celebrated at Saint Thomas Church, Villanova University. The homilist on both occasions was his long-time friend and confrere, Patrick Rice, O.S.A. Father Aherne is buried in the Augustinian plot at Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken, PA.