St. John Ogilvie
Roman Martyrology: A 16th- and 17th-century Scotsman who converted from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, served as a Jesuit priest, and died as a martyr at the hands of state officials. St. John was executed for treason, refusing to accept King James I’s claim of supremacy over the Church.
Etymology: Derived from the Hebrew meaning "God is gracious".
Canonization Date: October 17, 1976 by Pope Paul VI.
John Ogilvie was born in 1579, a member of a noble family. John´s noble Scottish family was partly Catholic and partly Presbyterian. His father raised him as a Calvinist, sending him to the continent to be educated. There, John became interested in the popular debates going on between Catholic and Calvinist scholars. Confused by the arguments of Catholic scholars whom he sought out, he turned to Scripture. Two texts particularly struck him: "God wills all men 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."
Some of his relatives had kept the Catholic faith, while others adhered to John Calvin’s interpretation of Protestantism as Presbyterians. Though raised as a Calvinist, John had doubts about the compatibility of this system with Scripture. In particular, he could not reconcile Calvin’s theology of predestination with Biblical passages teaching that God loves all people and wills each of them to be saved.
John greatly desired to go back to his native country and encourage its return to the Catholic Church. He served for a time as a priest in France, while requesting to be sent back to Scotland. Others within his order made it clear to him that such a mission would be dangerous and unlikely to produce much fruit. In 1613, however, John obtained the assignment he desired.
He soon discovered the truth of the warnings he had received from other Jesuits, about the difficulty of Catholic evangelization in Scotland. Many members of the upper classes were not interested in returning to the Church, though he did carry out pastoral work among a largely poor population of Scots who had kept the faith. After a period in England he returned to France, seeking directions on how to proceed in light of his lack of success.
The French Jesuits ordered John back to Scotland, however, where he resumed his ministry to the underground Church as well as the smaller number of people interested in converting. His arrest came about when one potential “convert” turned out to be an informer, who had John arrested and interrogated.
The first criminal accusation St. John Ogilvie faced was that of celebrating Mass within the King’s realm. Unwilling to incriminate himself, he suffered two months of imprisonment. An iron bar was attached to his feet to prevent him from moving in his cell. Despite this ordeal, he strongly resisted pressure to give evidence against other Scottish Catholics.
Severe torture was then inflicted on John. His hair and fingernails were pulled out, and for a period of nine days he was prevented from sleeping by continual stabbing with sharp stakes. His jailers beat him, flung him to the floor of his cell, and shouted in his ears. Nothing, however, could make him renounce his faith or betray his Catholic countrymen to the authorities.
John’s tormentors were impressed by his fortitude, and by the surprising sense of humor that he showed in the face of the brutal punishments. But they could not spare his life, unless the Jesuit priest gave an acceptable response to a series of questions provided by King James I. Johndeclared his loyalty to the king, but steadfastly rejected James’ claim to supremacy over the Church in religious matters. The priest was eventually convicted on a charge of high treason.
Attempts to ply John with bribery – in exchange for his return to Protestantism, and his betrayal of fellow Catholics – continued even as he was being led to his execution. His own defiant words are recorded: for the Catholic faith, he said, he would "willingly and joyfully pour forth even a hundred lives. Snatch away that one which I have from me, and make no delay about it, but my religion you will never snatch away from me!"
Asked whether he was afraid to die, the priest replied: “I fear death as much as you do your dinner.” St. John Ogilvie was executed by hanging on March 10, 1615.
Condemned to death as a traitor, he was faithful to the end, even when on the scaffold he was offered his freedom and a fine living if he would deny his faith. His courage in prison and in his martyrdom was reported throughout Scotland.
Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1976, making him Scotland’s first canonized saint for several hundred years.