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Exploring the legacy of Saint John Ogilvie

Four hundred years have passed since John Ogilvie SJ was martyred in Glasgow on 10 March 1615. He died to defend the right of religious freedom during the highly charged period of the Scottish Reformation. The Ogilvie Conference which took place in Glasgow on 21 March marked this significant anniversary. The conference programme which included a talk presented by Irish Jesuit Brian Mac Cuarta SJ, explored the life of Scotland’s Martyr for the faith and several facets of the Jesuit experience in Scottish history.

Brian who is director of the Jesuit Archives in Rome, spoke on Scottish Catholic exiles in the Ulster Plantation – around the time Ogilvie was martyred. Says Brian, ‘At that time of persecution in Scotland, some Catholics sought refuge across the narrow sea in Ulster. And so Scottish Catholic planters settled in Strabane, Co Tyrone. Today, with the recent referendum on Scottish independence, we are at an interesting juncture in Scottish life. It’s good to recover some of the complexity of Ireland’s relations with its nearest neighbour, and to recall Jesuit involvement in the Scottish Catholic community in plantation Ulster’. The conference which was hosted by St Aloysius College, the Scottish Catholic Historical Association and the Scottish Religious Cultures Network, also included presentations on topics such as Glasgow’s Catholics & John Ogilvie’s Mission; the lives John Ogilvie touched; the Jesuits and the Catholic Revival in Scotland; and Jesuit education.

John Ogilvie SJ was a Scot of noble birth, born in 1579 into a highly respected Calvanist family. Aged 13 he was sent by his family to receive his education in mainland Europe. When he returned to his homeland (by then a reformed Protestant country) after an absence of 22 years, he was ordained a Jesuit priest and began to preach at a time of great religious upheaval, intense suspicion and conflict. As a measure of safety and in order to preach the prohibited Mass in secret, Fr Ogilvie adopted the disguise of a horse dealer. But sadly, the course of his ministry lasted less than a year. He was betrayed and humiliated, suffered great brutality in prison, was put on trial for treason and hanged from the gallows for refusing to recognise the jurisdiction of the King. His martyrdom made a deep impression on many who witnessed his execution.

John Ogilvie died for witnessing to his beliefs in a world hostile to the values of Christ. He was beatified in 1929, and canonised on the 17 October 1976 by Pope Paul VI after the healing of John Fagan in 1967 was declared a miracle. The factory worker at the Glasgow docks was healed of a large tumour in his stomach after the entire parish of Blessed John Ogilvie in Easterhouse, Glasgow prayed to Blessed John for a miracle. When Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in 1982, he cited the faith of Saint John Ogilvie in holding strong to the tenets of Catholicism and the need for all Christians to walk hand in hand as brothers and sisters. Ogilvie’s legacy is indeed true to our times.