Saint John Ogilvie, the Last Martyr of Scotland and the Reformation

John Ogilvie, born in 1579, when the Protestant ‘reformation’ had taken hold in Britain, not least his (and my own) native land of Scotland under the apostate John Knox, was raised in his first formative years by a Calvinist father. However, along with many young noblemen, he was sent to the Continent to be educated by the recently-founded Jesuits, who had already made a name for themselves for having the best schools and curricula (adopting what had always been considered a Catholic liberal arts program, their famous ratio studiorium).

Young Sir John soon realized the truth of Catholicism, in contrast to the obvious errors, theological, historical and spiritual, of Knox’s Presbyterianism, and, at the age of 17, was received into the Church. Soon afterwards, he joined the Jesuits themselves in 1599, and, after a solid decade of formation, was ordained in 1610.

Father Ogilvie spent his all-too brief priestly ministry as a missionary first in London, then Paris, and finally amongst his own people Scotland, where Catholicism and the sacraments were outlawed under pain of death; it was here, not far from where he was born, after working for a year clandestinely as a priest under the pseudonym ‘John Watson, horse-trader’ that he was betrayed.

His virtue and discipline shone forth during his brutal imprisonment, and his patience and kindness converted many. The King’s Men strove to coerce him to betray his confidants, renounce his faith, and swear allegiance to King James the First. (He was also James the Sixth of Scotland, the son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, put to death when James was but an infant by the also-tragic Elizabeth the First. James had been raised a staunch Protestant, and led the charge in extirpating the Faith from the island nation).

Father Ogilvie underwent a number of tortures, being put in the ‘boots’, which crushed his feet, and the jailers were ordered to keep him awake for a full ‘novena’, nine days without sleep, towards the end of which they had to slash him with knives and drop him on the floor to keep him awake. Physicians who examined him afterward declared that one more sleepless night would have killed him, and the priest was never the same afterward; as he confessed, his once-sharp mind was now somewhat confused.

During all of this inhuman treatment, Father Ogilvie remained steadfast; the rumour that he ‘gave away names’ (repeated on Wikipedia) is at the very least debatable, and what he said during sleep deprivation was not under the sway of reason. Throughout it all, Father Ogilvie refused to submit to the King or his heretical faith, declaring that the King was playing ‘runagate from God’, and that he would no more recognize him in his spiritual authority than an ‘old hat’.

Ogilvie was condemned to the brutal death of being ‘hung, drawn and quartered’, a sentence carried out on this day, March 10, 1615, at the age of 36, ten years before another Jesuit by the name of John, de Brebeuf, was sent on his own missionary work to New France, where he would meet a similar fate.

As Father Ogilvie ascended the scaffold at Glasgow Cross (where a monument to the saint now stands), the priest embraced the hangman, urging him to ‘be of good cheer’, confessing before the expectant crowd,

In every duty which I owe the King’s majesty I will show myself a most obedient subject; for if any invade his temporal rights I would shed my last drop of blood in his defence”

Like Thomas More a century before and four hundred miles south, Ogilvie died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.

Father John Ogilvie was canonized in 1976, becoming the last post-Reformation Scottish saint (so far!). As Cardinal John Henry Newman was to predict two centuries afterward, no country can keep its Christian identity without being fully Catholic, for Protestantism, having no locus of authority and no principle of cohesion, eventually fragments into agnosticism and secularism, in which Scotland, the rest of the ‘United Kingdom’, and all of Europe, come to think of it, are now almost completely immersed.

We pray for the return of the faith to that beautiful and bonnie land, the land of my own birth, once so Catholic. The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith, which, like the nation itself, may yet rise again, some way, or another.

Saint John Ogilvie, ora pro nobis!