The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 2, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

Scots saint didn't have dry spell

John Ogilvie didn't let state religion stand in way of faith


By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

The sports world talks about teams being in a dry spell when they go for several years - or decades in the case of the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox - without winning a championship.

But the church world has a broader perspective. Still when Pope Paul VI canonized John Ogilvie in 1976, it would be fair to say that his action ended a dry spell. For he became the first Scottish saint since St. Mary of Scotland in 1250 - a stretch that the Cubs and Red Sox might yet match, but one we won't be around long enough to know about.

So who was St. John Ogilvie? He was born in about 1579 in Banffshire, Scotland, the son of the baron of Drumn-na-Keith and Lady Douglas of Lochleven.

John was born less than 20 years after the death of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, and a few years after John Knox succeeded in switching the Scottish state religion from Catholicism to Calvinism (later known as Presbyterianism). Although John's family included both Catholics and Protestants, he was raised as a Calvinist in line with his father's wishes.

When John was 13, he was sent to Belgium to study at Louvain, a Catholic university. In 1596, he converted to Catholicism after listening to the arguments of both Catholics and Protestants and hearing about the lives of the martyrs. He continued his studies at Ratisbon and Olmütz, before joining the Jesuits at Brünn in 1600.

In 1610, he was ordained to the priesthood in Paris. After ministering in both France and Austria, he was granted his wish and allowed to return to Scotland to minister to the Catholics who were being persecuted under King James I.

John was able to minister in Edinburgh and Glasgow - particularly among the wealthy nobles - by pretending to be John Watson, a horse trader and/or a soldier back from the wars in Europe. He also visited prisons and, at least once, the castle.

He succeeded in convincing several people to return to the church until Adam Boyd, who had told him he was interested in becoming a Catholic, turned him into the authorities.

During his months-long imprisonment, John was tortured - once he was not allowed to sleep for eight straight days - in a vain effort to force him to reveal the names of other Catholics.

He was tried three times and found guilty of high treason. The verdict stemmed from his refusal to acknowledge the spiritual supremacy of the king, his efforts to convert others to Catholicism and his refusal to become a Presbyterian.

He was hanged in 1615 on March 10, the day on which we observe his feast day.


(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints II, 365 Saints and World Book Encyclopedia)


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