John R. Aherne was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1913. It was here that he attended parish schools and graduated from Northeast Catholic High School in 1929. He entered the Augustinian Academy on Staten Island, New York as a postulant in the Order of St. Augustine and made his solemn profession of vows in 1934.
He graduated from Villanova University in 1935 with a B.A. in Philosophy and pursued theological studies at Augustinian College in Washington, D.C., where he was ordained to the priesthood June 7, 1938. In 1939, he received a M.A. in English from the Catholic University of America.
From 1939 to 1942, he taught at Villanova Prep in Ojai, California, and came to San Diego in 1942, where he was a teacher at St. Augustine High School until 1952. He became principal of the school the next year and also was named commissary provincial for the newly established vice-province of California, in which post he was head of all the Augustinians in California.
Father John R. Aherne describes the beginning of the school library in his autobiography, A Kind of Fidelity:
Among the many tasks beyond teaching and administration which preoccupied me in San Diego, as it had in Ojai, was the school library. When I arrived at St. Augustine’s in 1942 the book collection was housed in locked glass-doored cabinets lining a classroom amounted to about 300 volumes. There was no budget and few hours when books were available. In the period 1947-1953 I persuaded the principal that the library needed permanent quarters and a budget, however modest. He agreed and considerable improvements occurred. Through my years as principal, the building up of the collection and extension of its services was a major interest. In 1957 I included a sizable stack area in the administration center which I built. By this time Patrick Wolff was a teacher and part-time librarian. The following year I employed the first full time Professional Librarian, June Grande, at St. Augustine’s, Wolff having been named Vice-Principal. All through the time I spent in San Diego, I retained the function of acquisitions librarian. At the end of my era there was a reading room, stack room, librarian’s work-room, and a book collection of over 7,000 volumes. Teachers who moved on from St. Augustine’s to a number of public high schools, came back to use the library and assured me that it had the best collection among the secondary schools in the area. (Aherne, pp.50-51).
He was well-known to the academic, political, sports and legal communities in San Diego. His friends came from all segments of the San Diego community. Father Aherne was a prolific writer of poetry and prose as attested to his numerous volumes in the Saints library collection. He was also a major contributor of more than 100 articles to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion.
He served as president of Merrimack College in North Andover Massachusetts from 1968 until 1975. Father Aherne served on the Board of Trustees of Merrimack College, Villanova University and was chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners from 1976 to 1978.
At the age of 77, Fr. Aherne died at the Our Mother of Good Counsel Monastery on the campus of Merrimack College on June 4, 1990.