In the year 1616, on the 10th March, sixteen students took the missionary oath to return to Scotland as secular priests. They had been given three months by Pope Paul V (formerly the first Cardinal-Protector of the College) to take the oath or leave the College. This move was made as it became clear that Scotland would not return to the church of its own accord and that priests were needed to bring the faith to the people.
This request by the Holy Father had originally been met with some reluctance; it was the first anniversary of John Ogilvie’s martyrdom that inspired the men to devote themselves completely to the Scottish Mission as priests. This purpose began then and has remained in the College now for four hundred years.
This saint who inspires still today over four hundred years after his death played an immeasurable role in the College’s history. Who was this man whom we celebrate here in Rome, along with the Church in Scotland, on the 10th March?
John Ogilvie was born around 1579 in Drum-na-Keith to a Calvinist family, but while studying in Louvain was received into the Church in 1597. In the years following, St. John Ogilvie joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in Paris in 1610.
In the autumn of 1613, St. John Ogilvie was sent back to Scotland to “reconcile as many as possible to the Catholic Church.” Little is known of the first six months of his ministry around Scotland, however he did travel to London in February 1614 and most likely met with James VI concerning a political project to aid the King’s relations with the courts of Europe. This was not as unlikely as it seems at first, as the King had dealings with other Jesuits in the past (his wife had been converted to Catholicism by Fr. Abercromby S.J. in 1600). Following this escapade, his superiors sent Ogilvie back to Scotland and it is his work from then on that we know best. Making his base in Edinburgh at William Sinclair’s house (an advocate of parliament and secret Catholic), he became famous for his devotion to the duties of his vocation, comforting and encouraging Catholics and making converts.
A few months later, in late August, Ogilvie began working in Glasgow as well, and found great success there, rebuilding a Catholic congregation in Renfrewshire. This he continued to do until he was arrested on the 4th October 1614 in Glasgow. After months of trials and torture, during which he never gave up the identities of secret Catholics, he was finally martyred at Glasgow Cross on the 10th March 1615.
This great saint has had a profound effect on the history of the Scots College in Rome, and his example continues to inspire the seminarians in the eternal city, even four hundred years after his martyrdom.
John Ogilvie is Scotland’s most recent saint, but it is our hope and prayer here in Rome that he is not the last!
Joseph McGill – Philosophy II