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).
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
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
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
"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).
A Sketch of the Life and Times of John Ogilvie, Jesuit by F. A. Forbes and