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Significant Scots
Saint John


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 Louvain.

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 James I and VI.

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 James:

"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 (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Farmer, Moore, Undset).


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