|Flags were flying at half-staff this week for John J. Ahern, a native son who left an indelible stamp
on both Foxboro schools and community at large. Mr. Ahern died Tuesday at Caritas Norwood Hospital after
a period of declining health. He had just turned 83 on April 8. Born on April 8, 1922, he was the son of the
late Timothy Ahern and Annie (Desmond) Ahern, both of whom had emigrated from Ireland, and was raised
on Lakeview Road, where he lived his entire life until entering the hospital several months ago.
He was a 1940 graduate of Foxboro High School, serving as class president and gaining renown for both his
academic performance and athletic skills, which were considerable. He was a 1947 graduate of the University
of Notre Dame, having returned to the school after serving in the armed forces for three years during World
War II. As a result of the interruption, he received his master's degree in education from Columbia University
that same year.
Mr. Ahern was best known as principal of Foxboro High School, a post he held for 15 years, from 1957 until
retiring at an early age in 1972. At the time he spoke of being physically and emotionally tired, adding he was
drained by the responsibility for thousands of vulnerable teenagers. "Each of us has just so much vitality, and
I feel I have given what I can," he said. In fact, Mr. Ahern had attempted to resign five years earlier, at the
close of the 1967 school yeara time when he was seriously contemplating a mid-life calling to the
priesthood. However, he was held in such high esteem, both by faculty at the high school and in the wider
community, the School Committee refused to accept his resignation and instead insisted he take a year's
leave of absence. He agreed, and subsequently returned for three more years at Foxboro High.
When he permanently retired in 1972, more than 400 friends, colleagues and former students turned out at
Lake Pearl Ballroom for a testimonial dinner. The surprise announcement that evening was that the town's
junior high school, known previously as the Intermediate School, would be named the John J. Ahern Middle
School in his honor. Keynote speaker was Rev. Stephen Weaver, former pastor of Bethany Congregational
Church who returned to Foxboro for the occasion. Weaver that night referred to the guest of honor
as "a student's principal" and one of the most respected citizens ever to walk the streets of Foxboro.
During the course of his long and productive life, few doubted that assessment. Having attended many of
Foxboro's former neighborhood schoolsincluding the Everett School at the corner of Main and Cross
streets, the Center School at the current Town Hall site and the high school, now the Igo Elementary
Schoolhis first teaching job was at the Spaulding Institute in Peoria, Ill., where he also served as
baseball coach. But after just one year in the Midwest, he returned to Foxboro in 1948 as a science teacher
at the junior/senior high school. He also served as basketball coach and was assistant to football coach
John Certuse, who was then turning out state championship squads. He was named assistant to high
school principal Winfield C. Potter in 1953 and four years later was appointed to the principal's post, which
at that time paid $4,100 a year.
Very much a professional educator, he also took quiet pride in his military service. He served in the U.S. Army
Air Corps during World War II, as a radioman and gunner aboard a B-17 bomber, and flew many combat
missions over occupied Europe.
In his retirement, Mr. Ahern cultivated a wide range of interests, and in recent years was a seasonal fixture at
the community farm stand on Commercial Street, working to benefit the Foxboro Discretionary Fund.
Deeply religious, he was active at St. Mary's Church and when the wider Catholic Church opened the
Mass to lay participants in the 1960s, he was among the first lectors at St. Mary's. A lifelong bachelor, he is
survived by a sister, Mary Welch and her husband, both of Allentown, Pa.; and had been predeceased by
another sister, Margaret Ahern.
Calling hours were scheduled for today (April 28) from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Roberts & Sons
Funeral Home, 30 South St. A funeral Mass will be held at 9 a.m. Friday at St. Mary's Church, Carpenter
Street, followed by burial with Air Force honors at St. Mary's Cemetery. Memorial donations may be sent to
the John J. Ahern Scholarship Fund, c/o Spillane & Spillane, 83 Mechanic St., Foxboro, MA 02035.