The Last Martyr of Scotland

We’re accustomed to hearing about the English Jesuits of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, who secretly ministered to English Catholics during the Anglican persecutions. However we rarely hear about what was going on north of the border, in Scotland. Today, the Church gives us the opportunity to do just that.

Today is the Feast of St. John Ogilvie, a Scottish Jesuit who was martyred in 1615. Ogilvie came from an aristocratic family dominated by Presbyterians, but managed to get himself educated on the Continent, first by the Benedictines and later by the Jesuits. Eventually he not only converted to Catholicism, he became a Jesuit priest, and begged his superiors to be assigned to Glasgow, to serve the shrinking Catholic community there. Ogilvie’s ministry only lasted several months, for he was caught, tortured, and executed in under a year from his arrival back in his homeland.

It’s interesting to note that, twice in his meetings with the Scottish hierarchy, Pope Benedict XVI urged the bishops to encourage devotion to St. John Ogilvie:

In February 2010, during a visit to Rome by the Scottish bishops’ conference, Benedict XVI asked the bishops to promote devotion to St. John Ogilvie among priests – since the Jesuit martyr had been “truly outstanding in his dedication to a difficult and dangerous pastoral ministry, to the point of laying down his life.” Later that year, during the Scottish segment of his U.K. visit, the Pope again encouraged priests to look to the saint’s “dedicated, selfless and brave” example.

Is Benedict’s request bearing fruit? Some are saying that the new crop of Scottish bishops are younger, more orthodox, and less likely to put up with nonsense than their predecessors. Others engage in the usual histrionics one expects from the outlets which run such pieces. As usual, the truth more likely lies somewhere in between, and Scotland is in serious need of re-evangelization.

Where that impetus will come from remains to be seen. Certainly not from the Jesuits, an order which one doubts St John Ogilvie would even recognize anymore. The Dominicans appear to be making some strides in places like Glasgow, where the order had deep historical ties, but of course they can’t be expected to do everything themselves.

So as the Church remembers St. John Ogilvie today, perhaps we would do well – particularly those of us with Scots ancestry – to remember Pope Benedict’s embrace of the example of this Scottish Catholic martyr, and pray for his intercession in his native land to bear good fruit indeed.


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