Robert Butler was born in London in 1836 to Dublin-born musical instrument maker George Butler and his wife, Margaret Meade, also from Dublin. Robert studied for the priesthood at St. Edmund's College in Ware, Hertfordshire and was ordained in Rome in 1860. He was a member of the Congregation of Oblates of St. Charles and served for about 17 years in the parish of St. Mary and All Angels in Bayswater, London.
In 1877 Robert was present at the death of Pope Pius IX as he happened to have been in Rome at the time, accompanying Cardinal Manning on a visit to the city.
Robert moved into education in 1878, becoming rector of St. Charles College, Bayswater, succeeding the recently deceased Cardinal Manning. Robert held this position until his death in 1902. He died in Bayswater and was brought back to St. Edmund's to be buried on the north side of the altar of St. Edmund's College Chapel.