Winston Norman Ashley was born to Arthur Burton Ashley and Bertha Moore on May 3rd, 1915 in Neodesha, Kansas. His oldest and only sibling, Richard, had been born six years earlier. While both were still young, the family moved to Blackwell, Oklahoma, where Winston received his primary and secondary education in the public schools there from 1921-33.
Upon graduating from high school, Winston began his undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago. In 1937, he received an M.A. from the same school in the field of Comparative Literature. It was during the following year that he received a unique grace (which he attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin) in which the spear wound from Christ’s side made a powerful impression upon his consciousness, leading him eventually to enter the Catholic Church. His parents had been Protestant, and he himself had in recent years been a committed atheist and communist. The study of St. Thomas, to whom he had been introduced by Mortimer Adler at U. of C., had paved the way for his intellectual acquiescence to the Faith, and he would later devote much of his academic work as a Dominican to expounding the thought of the same Angelic Doctor.
After being received into the Church in 1938 and taking the Baptismal name Joseph, the new convert moved the following year to South Bend, Indiana, where he received his first PhD in 1941 in Political Philosophy. On the Feast of St. Dominic in 1941, he received the Dominican habit in River Forest, IL; four years and one day later, he made Solemn Profession usque ad mortem at the Dominican Camp in Menominee, Michigan. On June 4th, 1948, the Feast of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, Fr. Benedict Mary Ashley was ordained to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. Having spent the decade in studies in River Forest, he received a Lectorate in Theology in 1949, followed by a second doctorate in Philosophy from the Pontifical Faculty there.
Fr. Ashley then began his impressively prolific and distinguished career in the Order’s intellectual apostolate as a professor, author, lecturer and consultant. An exhaustive list would be overwhelming, but highlights include: A little under two decades (1951-69) as Instructor/Professor of Philosophy at Aquinas Institute, during which time he contributed greatly to expounding the famous ‘River Forest School’ of Thomism through his work for the Albertus Magnus Lyceum; during this time he served 5 years (1958-63) as Director of the aforementioned Lyceum and 7 years (1962-69) as both Regent of Studies for the Province and President of Aquinas Institute; for the next 3 years he was Professor of Social Philosophy & Theology at the Institute of Religion & Human Development in Houston, TX (1969-72); he then served as Professor of Moral Theology at Aquinas Institute from 1972 until he assumed Emeritus status in 1980; both before and after assuming Emeritus status, he was frequently appointed Visiting Professor at a number of fine institutions, including the University of Chicago, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage & Family—to which his contribution was considerable, St. Xavier College, St. Mary’s Dominican College, St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary, Catholic University of America, St. Mary’s Seminary, and others…
Fr. Ashley likewise served in numerous consulting positions: He was for some years in the post-Vatican II period a consultant in moral theology for the Committee on Doctrine and Pastoral Practice of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he helped to develop their 3rd edition of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities; he was a Theological Consultant for the Mercy Health Care Corporation, a member of the Theological Advisory Council of the Danforth Foundation and Senior Fellow of the Pope John XXIII Center for Medical Ethics Research & Education, to name only a few. He was also the first President of the Midwestern Association of Theological Schools and a founding member of the Board of the Association of Chicago Theological Schools.
Fr. Ashley’s output in the written apostolate was likewise immense. Just a few of his many well-known books include Health Care Ethics: A Catholic Theological Analysis (currently in its 5th ed.) The Arts of Learning & Communication, Theologies of the Body: Humanist & Christian, The Dominicans, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, Choosing a Worldview & Value System: An Ecumenical Apologetics, The Ashley Reader: Redeeming Reason, and The Way Toward Wisdom: An Interdisciplinary & Contextual Introduction to Metaphysics, among many other books, not to mention countless articles in journals, anthologies, etc… His autobiography, Barefoot Journeying, has recently been published by New Priory Press.
Two of Fr. Benedict’s most prestigious awards and honors are the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal conferred by John Paul II and the post-doctoral Master in Sacred Theology from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
Even into his 90’s, Fr. Ashley would periodically teach formal theology courses at Aquinas Institute. Just as he had taught and formed young Dominicans during his first years of formal ministry, likewise toward the end of his life he again lived for many years in the studium community (this time in St. Louis), where his edifying example of Dominican life continued to inspire many young brothers in initial formation. Due to declining health, Fr. Ashley moved to St. Pius V Priory in Chicago in 2009, and in 2013 at the age of 97 he was still earnestly engaged in the ‘apostolate of the pen.’ Never content merely to shine, Fr. Ashley studiously sought to illumine others even into his final days.