Saint John Ogilvie


 St John Ogilvie SJ, Priest and Martyr

John Ogilvie, the son of a wealthy Scottish laird, was born in 1579 into a respected family near Keith in Banffshire, Scotland which was partly Calvinist and partly Catholic. He was sent to be educated in mainland Europe where he attended a number of Catholic colleges, under the Benedictines at Regensburg in Germany and with the Jesuits at Olomouc and Brno in the present day Czech Republic.
In a religiously divided Europe, he became interested in the debates between Catholics and Calvinists. Confused by the arguments of some Catholic scholars, he turned to Scripture. He was particularly struck by two texts: “God wills all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” and “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you”. Gradually he began to see that it was the Catholic Church which could accept all kinds of people and he was impressed by the Church’s many martyrs. He decided to become a Catholic. In 1596, at the age of 17, he was received into the Church at Leuven, Belgium.
In 1608 he entered the Jesuits and was ordained a priest with them in Paris in 1610. It was then that he met two Jesuits who had just returned from Scotland after having been arrested and put in prison. With the tightening of the Penal Laws, which forbade preaching or endorsing Catholicism, they saw little hope of missionary work there. But their story got John thinking and over the next two and a half years he begged to be sent to the Scottish mission, especially to the few remaining Catholics in the Glasgow area.
With the blessing of his superiors, he entered Scotland in November 1613 variously disguised as a horse trader or as a soldier returning from wars in Europe. But, unable to do any meaningful work among the small number of Catholics, he returned to Paris to speak with his superiors. Rebuked for leaving his assignment, he was sent back to Scotland. Now he got down to his mission, secretly celebrating Mass in Catholic homes and even making some converts.
However, his ministry was to last less than a year. In 1614, he was betrayed and arrested in Glasgow and taken to jail in Paisley.
His trial dragged on until he had been without food for 26 hours. He was put in prison and not allowed to sleep. For eight days and nights he was dragged around, prodded with sharp sticks, his hair pulled out. Still, he refused to reveal the names of Catholics or to acknowledge the authority of the king in Church affairs. He underwent a second and a third trial but held firm. At his final trial, in a statement reminiscent of St Thomas More, he told his judges: “In all that concerns the king, I will be slavishly obedient; if any attack his temporal power, I will shed my last drop of blood for him. But in the things of spiritual jurisdiction which a king unjustly seizes I cannot and must not obey.”
John was finally convicted of high treason, because he converted Protestants to the Catholic faith as well as denied the king’s spiritual jurisdiction by upholding the primacy of the Pope and condemning the oaths of supremacy and allegiance to the Crown.

On 10 March 1615, aged 36 years, John Ogilvie was paraded through the streets of Glasgow and hanged at Glasgow Cross. His last words were: “If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me but the prayers of heretics I will not have.” After he was pushed from the ladder, he threw his concealed rosary beads out into the crowd. The tale is told that one of his enemies caught them and later became a devout Catholic.
Following his execution, Ogilvie’s followers were rounded up and put in jail. They suffered heavy fines but none received the death penalty.
As a martyr of the Counter-Reformation John Ogilvie was beatified in 1929 and canonised in 1976. He is the only post-Reformation saint from Scotland.
 

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