The Feast of Scotland's Jesuit Martyr

On 10 March, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St John Ogilvie SJ, Scotland’s only post-Reformation Jesuit martyr. Ogilvie was born in 1579, the son of a respected Calvinist family, and converted to Catholicism after receiving his education from the Benedictines and the Jesuits. He entered the Society of Jesus at the age of 29 and was ordained priest two years later.

After ordination Ogilvie served in France, but he was keen to be sent to Scotland to minister to the few Roman Catholics who remained in the Glasgow area. Eventually, in November 1613, he returned to Scotland disguised as a horse trader named John Watson. He began to preach in secret, celebrating mass clandestinely in private homes. But within months, he was betrayed and arrested in Glasgow. He was taken to gaol in Paisley where he suffered terrible tortures, including being kept awake for eight days and nine nights, in an attempt to make him divulge the identities of other Roman Catholics.

When Ogilvie refused to betray fellow Catholics, he was convicted of high treason for refusing to accept the King's spiritual jurisdiction. On 10 March 1615, at the age of 36, he was paraded through the streets of Glasgow and hanged and disembowelled, according to the penalty of the time, at Glasgow Cross. 

John Ogilvie’s last words were "If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me; but the prayers of heretics I will not have". After he was pushed from the stairs, he threw his concealed rosary beads into the crowd. It is claimed that one of his enemies caught them and subsequently became a devout lifelong Roman Catholic. After his execution Ogilvie's followers were rounded up and imprisoned and although they incurred heavy fines, none was executed.

John Ogilvie was beatified in 1929 and canonised in 1976. His shrine (pictured) is in the Church of St Aloysius in Glasgow – a Jesuit parish.

Mosaic of the Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie SJ in St Aloysius church, Glasgow