John Ogilvie. Jesuit Priest and Martyr
Written and Researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

Ogilvy COA

John Ogilvie (1579/80-1615) was the eldest son of an important Scottish Presbyterian family. Like many Scottish families, in this time period, he had Catholic roots, but went to the Presbyterian church, because of the political climate of the time. This was a result of the Reformation movement begun by King Henry VIII (the establishment of the State religion, as Protestant, after the dissolution of the monasteries) in the British Isles. His father was baron of Drum-na-Keith, lord of large territories in Banffshire. His mother was the daughter of Lady Douglas of Lochleven, Queen Mary's gaoler. His parents raised him in the Calvinist faith. He was sent to the continent, at age thirteen (13) to be educated. While studying, in France, he studied many religious documents and was involved in religious discussions. In 1596, he converted back to Catholicism, at Scots College in Louvain, at age sixteen (16). Father Crichton, the head of Scots College, had to dismiss all his students because of lack of funding. John then went to the Scottish Benedictines at Ratisbon. He was later at the Jesuit college at Olmutza as a lay student. An outbreak of the plague caused the college to be closed, before John could be admitted to the Society. John Ogilvie then went to Vienna and was finally made a novice at Brunn. For the next ten years he worked in Olmutz, Gratz, and Vienna.

Finally, John came to the French Province, in Paris, France, and received his priest's robes in 1610. Here he met two Jesuits who were doing missionary work in Scotland. They hoped to work through the Scottish nobles to win over King James, an ardent Protestant. John wrote to his father asking him for help in this mission.

John Ogilvie returned to his native Scotland and began to minister to Catholics. However, because of the strict santions against priests entering Scotland, he had to use the name John Watson, and claim to be a horse dealer and soldier returning from the European wars. Most of the nobles he contacted wanted nothing to do with his plans. Going against the king would cost them their positions and land holdings. They pretended to be faithful to the new religion so as to retain their wealth. However, the middle class rose to the occasion and wanted to practice their true religion. John Ogilvie then went back to France to contact his superior, Father Gordon, for guidance, who told him to return to Scotland to do his work.

John returned to Edinburgh and made his headquarters in the house of William Sinclair, a parliamentary advocate and sincere Catholic. Robert Sinclair, son of William studied with John to be a Jesuit too. John visited Catholic prisons, where people had been sent as "popish recusants." John Ogilvie made many converts in 1614. In August, he went to Glasgow where he lived in the home of a widow called Marion Walker, who ended her days in prison for her Catholic faith and her part in helping the Catholic cause.

In Glasgow he had the help of Sir John Cleland and Lady Maxwell, who were both secret Catholics, and a few Renfrewshire gentry reconciled with their Catholic faith. He was then called back to Glasgow to help more people who wished to go back to their Catholic faith. On May 4th he celebrated mass for the converts, one of whom was Adam Boyd. Boyd asked John Ogilvie to meet him for instructions at four o-clock at the market crossroads, where a messenger would guide him to a safe place where they could meet in privacy. Ogilvie agreed and Boyd then contacted Archbishop Spottiswoode, a former Presbyterian ministers who had risen to lieutenant within the King's court. He then sent Andrew Hay, a well-muscled servant to meet Adam Boyd and Ogilvie in the marketplace. At the same time, Boyd denounced all those he suspected of having dealings with John Ogilvie.

The appointment was kept, and the Jesuit arrived in the square accompanied by John Stewart, the son of the former provost. John Stewart smelled a rat, when he saw Hay, and asked Ogilvie to flee. Stewart and Hay fell into a brawl, but onlookers helped to capture Ogilvie and he was taken to the provost's house. The following morning they were brought before the archbishop and burghal court of Glasgow. John Ogilvie was asked whether he had been holding Catholic mass. Oglivie answered: "If this is a crime, it should be proved, not by my word, but by witnesses." John was interegated, in his cell, for twenty-six (26) hours. At the end of these punishments, he was trembling with fever, from the dank cold surroundings and loss of blood.

His punishment was starvation, beatings, torture, and sleep deprivation. To keep him from sleep he was prodded with sharp pointed-stakes, by shooting in his ears, by tearing out his hair by the roots, and being dragged and flung upon the cold, stone floor. In spite, he maintained his faith. The doctor told his persecutors that John was too sick to live through more torture, and he was brought back to the court. This time his trial was in Edinburgh and the charge was high treason for refusing to follow the king's guidance in spiritual matters. He was found guilty of not informing the court regarding the other Scotsmen who embraced the Catholic faith. They led him to believe that he would be spared if he named these men and women.

John Ogilvie was taken back to Glasgow and was treated kindly for a time, as they nursed his wounds, until his strength returned. They again asked him to name others, but he refused to co-operate and was again tortured. They even threatened to burn him alive, and a shivering John retorted that he would welcome that on such a cold day. His jailers were moved by his strength and conviction. They thought John Ogilvie was a very courageous man, and some even spoke in his behalf as a model prisoner. This changed no minds however, and he was hanged for high treason after a five month trial. His friend John Browne attended the hanging and said that even on the scafford, he was offered his freedom and a good amount of money were he to name his conspirators. He refused to the end.

John Ogilvie's day is March 10th. He was beatified in 1927, and was canonized in 1976, as the first Scot to achieve sainthood in five hundred (500) years.


To learn more about the Oglivies click on Nessy


Matz, Terry. The Day Book of Saints: A Celebration of Saints Throughout the Year. New York: Viking Studio, 2001, 46.

Walsh, Michael. Butler's Lives of the Saints. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, 74-76.

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