10 March ~ St. John Ogilvie

The first papal canonisation creating saints did not take place until the Church had been in existence for twelve centuries. Among early saints was Scotland’s Queen Margaret in 1250. In the eighth century Adamnan and his companions were recognized, but without formal processes of canonisation. There have been no further canonisations affecting Scotland until 1976, when the final processes for the canonisation of John Ogilvie were completed.

Ogilvie came to the cadet branch of the family well known in north-east Scotland. He was born in Banffshire so it is hardly correct to call him, as some books do, a Highlander, for most people from this corner of the country reject the title. They are of different stock and have a distinctly different accent.

It was this part – Moray, Nairn, Banff and Aberdeen – which at the Reformation clung most closely to ‘the old faith’, and districts like the Enzie and the Cabrach nurtured a new generation of priests. This mission of the Counter Reformation, as we might expect, became the especial care of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. It was the Jesuits who in the end trained and ordained the new saint, but by a roundabout route, for, while surrounded by the Catholicism of the district, his father, and as far as we know his other relatives, were Calvinists and emphatically Protestant.

In 1592 at the age of 13 the lad left home to complete his education on the continent – quite usual in those days for one in his station in society. At some point during the four years of his travels he turned from Calvinism to Catholicism. His personal arguments for this step were simple. The Protestants, he felt, lacked unity, antiquity and the power of miracles. IN 1596 he applied for admission to the Scots college of Douai, then housed at Louvain. Its students were largely from Scottish noble families. Within two years he was transferred to the Benedictine college at Ratisbon, then back tot he Jesuits at Olmutz. He became a novice in 1599.

His desire after his ordination was to return to the Jesuit mission in Scotland, and he knew only too well the dangerous nature of such work. Not until 1613 did his superiors allow him to join the Scottish mission. At the same tome Scots Catholicism was at a low ebb; James had allowed the consecration of Episcopalian bishops but intensified his persecution of the Catholics. Ogilvie, because of the penal laws, travelled as a horse dealer or a soldier. For a short period he removed to London but was sharply instructed by the authorities to return to Scotland where he found friendship and relative safety for a time with William Sinclair and his Catholic household. He ministered for a time in Glasgow and Renfrew as well as Edinburgh and his arrest came unexpectedly in Glasgow market-place where he was betrayed as a priest by on Adam Boyd,a nephew of the sheriff, who introduced himself as wanting instruction in the Catholic faith. Ogilvie was imprisoned both in Glasgow and in Edinburgh and during his imprisonment suffered torture, not so much physical as mental and psychological, through being deprived of sleep and propped upright for long periods. only when he was certified near to death was any respite granted.

The result of the examination was a foregone conclusion. The scaffold had already been prepared. At the end, Ogilvie asked the prayers of the Virgin, the Angels and the Saints. Below the scaffold the crowd of Glasgow citizens, mainly Protestants, were committing the unfortunate priest to God’s mercy. ‘If there be heere any hidden catholikes, let them pray for me,’ came the final words from the scaffold,, ‘but the prayers of heretics I will not have.’ On all sides it was an age of intolerance.

C.D. Ford, A Highlander for Heaven, 1976

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