The Feast of St. John Ogilvie

This week, The Scots College marks the 400th anniversary of the first Mission Oath being taken by students of the college. Their decision came in the days after the first anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie in Glasgow, in 1616. Kevin Rennie reflects on the story of Scotland’s only post Reformation saint and his influence on the transformation of the College from a Catholic education establishment to one for the formation of Priests to minister in Scotland.

Today we celebrate 401 years since the martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie S.J., and 400 years since the first Scottish seminarians in Rome took the Mission Oath. The College had been in existence since 1600 as a place of religious education and formation for catholic men who could no longer access such an education at home due to the after effects of the Reformation. It was on this day, 10th March 1616 that the college became a Seminary as the student body, inspired by reading of the ‘Acts of the Martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie’, offered themselves for training for the priesthood and the Mission in Scotland.

Mission Oath

The Oath was last taken in 1939 by Eugeneius Matthews

That historic decision was marked by those same men taking the Mission Oath – that was an oath they swore to God to train for the Priesthood: in taking the oath they swore to train, and at the appropriate time receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, prior to returning to Scotland. The Oath was last taken by Eugene Matthews from the Diocese of Galloway on the 13th March 1939, just prior to World War II. When the college reopened after the war, it was felt that the oath was no longer necessary, and so after 323 years it was dispensed with.

John Ogilvie was martyred at Glasgow Cross at the age of thirty-six. He was born into nobility, the eldest child in his family. John was raised as a Calvinist, but then sent to the continent for his education, which resulted in him studying with both the Benedictines and the Jesuits.

Struggling to reconcile elements of Calvinist teaching with his own studies of the Bible, at the age of seventeen he made the decision to become a Catholic – a somewhat difficult decision at the time as a result of the ongoing Reformation and rise of Protestantism in Scotland and England. Three years after converting to Catholicism, he made the decision to enter the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) as a Novice. After eleven years of training with the Jesuits, he was ordained to the Priesthood in 1610 in Paris, at which point he was sent to Normandy. During his time in Normandy, Fr John Ogilvie repeatedly petitioned the General of the Order to send him to Scotland, where despite the dangers, he desired to serve as a missionary.

In 1613 Fr John was ordered by the General of the Society to go to Scotland with the purpose of evangelisation. Between 1613 and 1614 he worked both with the nobility, from whom he sought support due to his heritage, but found little, and also with the poor who were very receptive to his teaching and open to the Catholic faith. However, in 1614, he was betrayed by an individual who had pretended to be a convert.

During the Reformation captured Catholic priests were given two options, to swear allegiance to the King and recognise his total Ecclesiastical authority in matters pertaining to the Church, and his sovereignty as Head of State, as well as to inform the authorities of ‘co-conspirators’, that is, others involved in the practice and teaching of the Catholic Faith. For those who refused to do this, they were tried and, if found guilty, put to death.

John Ogilvie refused to recognise the King as the Ecclesiastical Authority – although he did not deny his sovereignty with respect to State – nor would he inform of others who were involved in evangelical activities. His refusal to co-operate led to him being tortured, and continuing to refuse to co-operate, he was tried and executed, by hanging, on the charge of treason on 10th March 1615.

He is noted as having been offered one final chance to save his life prior to his execution, to which he is reported to have said, “Your threats cheer me; I mind them no more than the cackling of geese.” And asked if he feared death, he responded, “No more than you do to dine.”

During his final moments he protested that he was dying as a witness to the Catholic Faith and entrusted his soul to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. His final words are noted as having been “If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me, but the prayers of heretics I will not have.” Following this, he was executed. Just moments before he had thrown his rosary into the crowd which was caught by a Calvinist who later attributed that moment to his Catholic conversion.

John Ogilvie was Beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, recognising him as a martyr, but it wasn’t until 1976 that he was canonised by Pope Paul VI, becoming the only reformation-period Scottish Saint.

The Mission Oath was first taken by those present on the 10th March 1616.  The oath is shown below, both in the original Latin and the English translation.

Ego__________, e diocesi_________, plenam habens instituti huius Collegii notitiam, ipsius leges et consuetudines prout a moderatoribus explicatae sunt, libenter amplector, iisdem me sponte subjicio, easque pro viribus me observaturum polliceor.

Praeterea spondeo et juro quamdiu in hoc Collegio commorabor et postquam sive studiis completis sive secus quavis de causa inde discessero, nulli religiosae familiae aut societati vel congregationi regulari nomen daturum, nec in earum ulla professionem emissurum sine speciale Apostolicae Sedis licentia.

Item spondeo et juro me Superioribus adprobantibus statum ecclesiasticum amplexurum, ad omnesque sacros ordines, etiam presbyteratus quum praepositis meis visum fuerit adscensurum.

Voveo denique et juro me nulla interjecta mora in meam diocesim reversurum, ut ibi perpetuo divinis ministeriis vacem, operamque meam omnem pro christiani populi salute impendam.

Sic me Deus adjuvet et haec sancta Dei evangelia.

I, __________, of the diocese of _________, fully understanding the rules of this College, freely embracing its laws and customs as they have been explained by the superiors, willingly submit myself to them and promise to observe them to the best of my ability.

Furthermore, I promise and swear that as long as I dwell in this College, and when I leave here whether after completing studies or for any other reason, I will not be enrolled in any religious family, society or congregation of regulars, nor make any profession in them without special permission from the Apostolic See.

Similarly I swear and promise that I will accept the clerical state with the approval of my superiors, and advance to the holy orders, including priesthood, whenever it shall seem best to those in charge.

Finally I vow and promise that there will be no delay in my return to my diocese, where I shall perpetually fulfil the sacred ministry, and I will dedicate all my effort to the salvation of the Christian people.

So help me God and these his holy Gospels.

College Register

College Register from 1616

The Oath served firstly as a commitment to the college superiors, secondly as a commitment to formation for secular ministry, thirdly as a commitment to accept ordination at the approved time and finally as a commitment to the service of God in the home Diocese of the individual. The values expressed in this oath live on in the commitment of seminarians today.

More than just a commitment to their own personal formation, we recognise that decision to take  the Mission Oath by hat first group of students is one the reasons that we exist as a seminary. We therefore give thanks for the faithful witness of St. John Ogilvie and for the decision of these 15 young men.

St John Ogilvie – Pray for Us

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