The 400th anniversary of St. John Ogilvie's martyrdom was celebrated two years ago in Glasgow. While his mission to Scotland was more difficult than he thought it would be--he left to figure out what to do with his Jesuit superiors and then returned--at the end, through his martyrdom, and his Rosary, he effected a conversion. One of the spectators at his execution was moved first by Ogilvie's dignity in facing a horrible death and then by the seeming coincidence that the martyr's Rosary beads fell on him when he threw them into the crowd.
Baron John ab Eckersdorff described what happened to him on March 10, 1615 in Glasgow, Scotland:
I was on my travels through England and Scotland as it is the custom of our nobility being a mere stripling, and not having the faith. I happened to be in Glasgow the day Father Ogilvie was led forth to the gallows, and it is impossible for me to describe his lofty bearing in meeting death. His farewell to the Catholics was his casting into their midst, from the scaffold, his rosary beads just before he met his fate. That rosary, thrown haphazard, struck me on the breast in such wise that I could have caught it in the palm of my hand; but there was such a rush and crush of the Catholics to get hold of it, that unless I wished to run the risk of being trodden down, I had to cast it from me. Religion was the last thing I was then thinking about: it was not in my mind at all; yet from that moment I had no rest. Those rosary beads had left a wound in my soul; go where I would I had no peace of mind. Conscience was disturbed, and the thought would haunt me: why did the martyr's rosary strike me, and not another? For years I asked myself this question it followed me about everywhere. At last conscience won the day. I became a Catholic; I abandoned Calvinism; and this happy change I attribute to the martyr's beads, and to no other cause those beads which, if I had them now, gold could not tempt me to part with; and if gold could purchase them, I should not spare it.
Pope Paul VI canonized St. John Ogilvie in 1976. The Catholic News Agency recounts his mission to Scotland, his difficulties, and his torture:
John greatly desired to go back to his native country and encourage its return to the Catholic Church. He served for a time as a priest in France, while requesting to be sent back to Scotland. Others within his order made it clear to him that such a mission would be dangerous and unlikely to produce much fruit. In 1613, however, John obtained the assignment he desired.
He soon discovered the truth of the warnings he had received from other Jesuits, about the difficulty of Catholic evangelization in Scotland. Many members of the upper classes were not interested in returning to the Church, though he did carry out pastoral work among a largely poor population of Scots who had kept the faith. After a period in England he returned to France, seeking directions on how to proceed in light of his lack of success.
The French Jesuits ordered John back to Scotland, however, where he resumed his ministry to the underground Church as well as the smaller number of people interested in converting. His arrest came about when one potential “convert” turned out to be an informer, who had John arrested and interrogated.
The first criminal accusation St. John Ogilvie faced was that of celebrating Mass within the King’s realm. Unwilling to incriminate himself, he suffered two months of imprisonment. An iron bar was attached to his feet to prevent him from moving in his cell. Despite this ordeal, he strongly resisted pressure to give evidence against other Scottish Catholics.
Severe torture was then inflicted on John. His hair and fingernails were pulled out, and for a period of nine days he was prevented from sleeping by continual stabbing with sharp stakes. His jailers beat him, flung him to the floor of his cell, and shouted in his ears. Nothing, however, could make him renounce his faith or betray his Catholic countrymen to the authorities.
John’s tormentors were impressed by his fortitude, and by the surprising sense of humor that he showed in the face of the brutal punishments. But they could not spare his life, unless the Jesuit priest gave an acceptable response to a series of questions provided by King James I. John declared his loyalty to the king, but steadfastly rejected James’ claim to supremacy over the Church in religious matters. The priest was eventually convicted on a charge of high treason.
Attempts to ply John with bribery – in exchange for his return to Protestantism, and his betrayal of fellow Catholics – continued even as he was being led to his execution. His own defiant words are recorded: for the Catholic faith, he said, he would "willingly and joyfully pour forth even a hundred lives. Snatch away that one which I have from me, and make no delay about it, but my religion you will never snatch away from me!"
Asked whether he was afraid to die, the priest replied: “I fear death as much as you do your dinner.”
He had been born into a Calvinist family, but had converted to Catholicism while visiting France, studying for the priesthood, becoming a Jesuit, and being ordained in Paris.