Father Kevin Ashton, former parish priest of St Mary, Birchley and the longest-serving priest in the Archdiocese, died on Saturday 16 November aged 98 and in the 75th year of his priesthood.
John Kevin Ashton was born in Crosby on 16 February 1921, the youngest of five children born to Charles and Catherine Ashton, and grew up with four elder sisters, two of whom became nuns. His father, a joiner who worked on Hollywood film sets and in the Canadian logging injury, died after a serious accident on a construction project when Kevin was still young. He received his early education at St Bernard’s School, Liverpool and St Edward’s College, Liverpool before transferring to St Joseph’s College, Upholland for his seminary training. He seemed to thrive in this environment, where he was noted as a good footballer, earning the nickname ‘Smash Ash’ for his combative play, and an all-round athlete. He was ordained priest in the college chapel on 26 May 1945 by Archbishop Richard Downey.
In common with many priests ordained in the Archdiocese during that era, Kevin served a long apprenticeship to become a parish priest, ministering in several parishes as assistant priest: St Christopher, Speke (1945); St Marie, Standish (September 1949); St Marie, Southport (April 1951); St Elizabeth, Litherland (June 1956); St Swithin, Gillmoss (October 1957); St Joseph, Kirkby (1964); St Philip Neri, Liverpool (December 1965); and St Mary, Woolton (September 1970). In the last appointment at Woolton he was also chaplain at Notre Dame School.
His priestly ministry might have been quite different if one of his requests had been accepted. In the early 1950s he expressed the desire to serve as an army chaplain, but there were no vacancies at that time. He pursued the matter again in October 1956; although chaplains were needed and he was deemed a suitable candidate, the decision was postponed because Archbishop Godfrey was about to go to Westminster, and Father Kevin continued to minister faithfully in parishes across the diocese.
In January 1973 he was appointed parish priest at St Mary’s, Birchley in succession to Father Vincent Gaskell. He soon developed friendships with local families, as he had in his previous parishes, and ministered faithfully to the community for 22 years. During this period he developed a close link with Nugent House School in Billinge, so it was fitting upon his retirement from the parish that he took up the role of chaplain at the school. He remained at Nugent House for a further 14 years before moving to Sale to live with the Duggan family. There, in St Joseph’s parish, he regularly celebrated the Saturday lunchtime Mass. With the frailty of increasing age he moved to Ince Blundell Hall for his final few years.
According to friends he always aspired to be the oldest priest in the Archdiocese, which he was at the time of his death, though not the oldest priest we have ever had. That record belongs to Father Tom Kennedy. However, Father John Kevin Ashton was the longest-serving priest to date, having been a priest for a few days short of 74 years and six months.