Home Local Sports Father Robert D. Ashenbrenner, OSFS, longtime scholastic athletic director at Salesianum, North...

Father Robert D. Ashenbrenner, OSFS, longtime scholastic athletic director at Salesianum, North Catholic, dies at 97

Father Robert Ashenbrenner, OSFS

By Oblates of St. Francis de Sales

With sadness, but with faith in the Resurrection, we announce that our brother, Rev. Robert D. Ashenbrenner, OSFS, passed away on Monday, January 1, 2024. Father Ashenbrenner recently celebrated his 97th birthday surrounded by his Oblate brothers.

Father Ashenbrenner was a professed member of the Oblates for 73 years and a priest for almost 70 years. A teacher, athletic director, administrator, and religious superior, FatherAshenbrenner was a dedicated Oblate and priest.

Born in Philadelphia on December 22, 1926, he was the son of Reinhart Ashenbrenner and Mary (Hanlon) Ashenbrenner. He attended St. Hubert’s Grade School and graduated from Northeast Catholic High School for Boys in 1944.  Following graduation, he entered the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and made his first profession of vows in 1945. He completed his student teaching as a seminarian at the former Bishop Duffy High School in Niagara, New York.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Niagara University and continued his theological studies at DeSales Hall in Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edmond J. Fitzmaurice on June 5, 1954, at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Wilmington, Delaware.  Father Ashenbrenner did graduate work in religious education and mathematics at The Catholic University of America and Villanova University.

After ordination, Father Ashenbrenner was assigned to Salesianum School as a teacher of mathematics and theology.   After ten years in the classroom, Father Ashenbrenner became athletic director and served in this position for eleven years.  An article which appeared in the Wilmington News Journal in the 1970s described Father Ashenbrenner: “His middle initial is “D.”  D may stand for Dean, but it really denotes dedication and devotion!  This is not only the layman’s appraisal of Father “Ash,” but of all the priests and brothers who have ever lived with him.” Father Robert Kenney, OSFS, Father Ashenbrenner’s friend and principal at Salesianum in the 1970s, told the newspaper that “Ash’s truly unique quality is his ability to make athletics a ministry.

Over the years, he has spent countless hours lifting the spirits of athletes and their parents.    His calm, counsel, and sensitivity have earned Ash the lasting respect and admiration of many young men and their families.”

In 1976, Father Ashenbrenner returned to Philadelphia and North Catholic.  Back at his alma mater, Father taught math and religion to generations of Falcons. He also worked as the assistant to the school treasurer and continued his interest in the athletic programs at North and throughout the archdiocese. In the late 1970s, Father Ashenbrenner served as religious superior of the Oblate community on Torresdale Avenue and began a thirty-year relationship with the Hawthorne Dominican Sisters as one of the Oblate chaplains at Sacred Heart Cancer Home on Hunting Park Avenue.  For many years, Father Ashenbrenner spent every weekend ministering at St. Martin of Tours Parish on Oxford Circle.

When the North Catholic faculty house closed in 2000, Father Ashenbrenner was assigned to the Oblate community at Father Judge High School.  For the next six years, Father Ash continued to commute to the Frankford section of Philadelphia to serve as a guidance counselor and Salesian presence at North.   When he concluded his educational ministry in 2006, Father Ashenbrenner continued his sacramental ministry at the parish, the cancer home, and the Oblate schools in Philadelphia.  Always interested in a good game, Ash would walk over to the Father Judge gym during basketball season and see how the Crusaders were competing in the Philadelphia Catholic League.

In 2009, Father Ashenbrenner retired to the Oblate residence at Childs, Maryland.  He continued to follow the local sports and was visited frequently by former students from Salesianum and North Catholic. At Childs, he was reunited with many of his Oblate friends and colleagues, and often shared a laugh with Fathers Neil Kilty and John Brennan at mealtime. He was a gentle presence at Annecy Hall and always had a kind word for the caregivers and staff.

When Father Ashenbrenner was leaving Salesianum in 1976, he told the school paper that “as long as a man gives himself totally to God, God is pleased with him.” As Father Ashenbrenner leaves this world, his Oblate family is confident that God is pleased with him.

Father Ashenbrenner is preceded in death by his parents, his sisters Alberta, Jeanne, Irma, and Sr. Janet Ashenbrenner, RSM, and his brother Roger. He is survived by his brothers Joseph and John, along with many nieces and nephews.

May he rest in peace.

Arrangements: The viewing for Father Ashenbrenner will be held on Tuesday, January 9, from 10-11 a.m. at the Our Lady of Light Chapel in Childs, Md.  The Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 11:15 a.m.  Burial will follow in the Oblate Cemetery at Childs.