Herbert Thurston was born in London and educated at Stonyhurst and London University. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and was master of Beaumont college from 1880 to 1887. Thurston was ordained in 1890.
Thurston wrote more than 150 articles for the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1914), and published nearly 800 articles in magazines and scholarly journals, as well a dozen books. He re-edited Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints (1926-1938). He was a close friend of the Modernist theologian, Father George Tyrrell, who was harshly sanctioned by the Church. Many of Thurston's articles show a skeptical attitude towards popular legends about the lives of the saints and about holy relics and his treatment of spiritualism and the paranormal was regarded as "too sympathetic" by some sections of the Catholic community.