Monday, 10 March 2008
March 10th - St. John Ogilvie, Martyr
Born in Banffshire, Scotland, c. 1579; died at Glasgow, Scotland, March 10,
1615; beatified in 1929; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1976 (the first Scottish
saint since Margaret in 1250). John Ogilvie, son of the Calvinist baron of
Drum-na-Keith and Lady Douglas of Lochleven, returned to the faith of his
fathers and forsook his heritage in this world as the result of a passionate
course of theological studies and ardent prayers for light. The laird of
Drum-na-Keith had sent his eldest son abroad so that his 13-year-old John could
have the full benefit of French Calvinism as he studied for a few years at
This is characteristic of the violent religious turmoil of the age: the boy of
15 was entirely absorbed by an interest in religion-and wanted to be clear about
which faith was the 'true' one. He himself explained later that what decided the
question for him-and for me-was his experience that the Roman Catholic Church
included all kinds of people-emperors and kings, princes and noblemen, as well
as burghers, peasants, and beggars-but that it overtopped them all-no man was
above the Church.
John had also seen that the Church could impel people of all classes to renounce
the whole world to devote themselves entirely to God. And the final reason, the
one which in the end led to his conversion, was his having seen that the men who
gave their lives and their blood for Christ, those who had died to spread
Christianity among mankind, had been martyrs for the Christianity of Rome and
not for that of Geneva or Wittenberg.
At the age of 17 (1596), John Ogilvie returned to Catholicism, because he wished
to belong to the Church of the martyrs. Twenty years later, he himself suffered
the death of a martyr.
After his reception into the Catholic church at the Scots College at Louvain,
John continued his studies at Ratisbon (Regensburg) and Olmütz. In 1600, he
joined the Jesuit novitiate at Brünn (Brno), where he enjoyed the Jesuit
education in the liberal arts and sciences as well as religious studies and
spiritual formation. For ten years he worked in Austria, mainly at Graz and
Vienna, before he was assigned to the French province. Ogilvie was ordained at
Paris in 1610 and stationed in Rouen, where he learned of the persecution of
Catholics in his homeland. In 1613 received permission to go to Scotland to
minister to the persecuted Catholics there.
Using the alias John Watson, purportedly a horse trader and/or a soldier back
from the wars in Europe, he worked in Edinburgh, Renfrew, and Glasgow. He found
that most of the Scottish Catholic noblemen had conformed, at least outwardly,
and were unwilling to help a proscribed priest. Unable to make much of an
impression, he went to London to contact one of the king's ministers and then to
Paris for consultation. He was sharply told to return to Scotland, which he did.
In Edinburgh Ogilvie stayed at the house of William Sinclair, a lawyer whose son
he tutored. He ministered to a congregation and visited imprisoned Catholics.
Eventually Ogilvie was successful in winning back a number of converts to the
Church. Soon he attracted the attention of Archbishop Spottiswoode, once a
Presbyterian but now carrying out in Scotland the religious policies of King
He was betrayed by a man named Adam Boyd, who trapped him by pretending to be
interested in the faith. He was imprisoned, treated to the French torture of
"the boot," and forcibly kept from sleep for eight days to compel him to reveal
the names of other Catholics-which he refused. Steadfastly, he remained loyal to
the crown in temporal matters. After months of torture he was found guilty of
high treason for refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of the king in spiritual
matters and for refusing to apostatize. He managed to write an account of his
arrest and treatment in prison, which was smuggled out by visitors.
When Saint John appeared in court at Edinburgh in December 1613, he questioned
why Catholics were persecuted. He claimed the right to the faith that had not
only shown itself compatible with the order of society, but had been the main
factor in the creation of that order and in the birth of the nation. He said,
"Neither Francis [of France] has forbidden France, nor does Philip [of Spain]
burn for religion but for heresy, which is not religion but rebellion."
Heir of Drum-na-Keith, who had forsaken his family, his home, and his estate to
become a Jesuit and a priest, says to Spottiswoode and the other reformed
clergymen who owed their position and all they possessed to the favor of King
"The King cannot forbid me my own country, since I am just as much a natural
subject as the King himself. . . . What more do we owe him than our ancestors to
his ancestors? If he has all his right to reign from his ancestors, why does he
ask for more than they have left him by right of inheritance? They have never
had any spiritual jurisdiction, nor have they ever exercised any; nor held any
other faith than the Roman Catholic."
Finally, John Ogilvie was hanged at Glasgow