John Ogilvie SJ was born of noble Calvinist parents in 1579 at Drumna-Keith in Banffshire, Scotland. As a boy he was sent to the continent to further his education. With the help of Father Cornelius van den Steen (also known as Cornelius a Lapide) he was received into the Catholic Church, and was a student at the Scots College in Louvain and at other centres of learning. He entered the Society of Jesus on November 5 1599, and after insistent pleading, he was allowed to return to his native country where his ministry was cut short by his betrayal and capture in Glasgow. After extreme suffering he was hanged on March 10, 1615. The principal cause of his martyrdom was his insistence on the primacy of the Pope in spiritual matters, a primacy he affirmed with great constancy to the very end. He was enrolled among the saints by Blessed Pope Paul VI on October 17, 1976.
The following letter written secretly in prison a short time before his death and addressed to Father Claude Acquaviva, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, reveals the courage and humility with which St John faced martyrdom:
Dearest and wisest of veterans, after Christ and his angels and saints the most tender love of my heart.
My sufferings are terrible, the tortures severe. Your Paternity’s charity will ensure that you pray for me, that I may die with great generosity for the ever victorious Jesus. May Christ long protect you, the most expert leader of his chosen and tested soldiers as the bulwark of his Church.
Your Very Reverend Paternity’s little servant in Christ, and most unworthy child,
John Ogilvie SJ