10/3: Feast of Scots Martyr St John Ogilvie – His Life/Death & Miracles Now Meaningless in Modern Scotland?

10/3: Feast of Scots Martyr St John Ogilvie – His Life/Death & Miracles Now Meaningless in Modern Scotland?


John Ogilvie was the eldest son of Walter Ogilvie, a respected Calvinist who owned the estate of Drumnakeith in Banffshire. At the age of twelve he was sent to Europe to be educated. He attended a number of Benedictine establishments and eventually, he decided to become a Catholic.

The first part of the 17th century was a turbulent and dangerous time to be a Catholic priest in Scotland because after 1560 (Scottish Reformation), Catholicism was outlawed. Ogilvie returned to Scotland, arriving in Glasgow disguised as a horse trader. He celebrated Masses in secret, and was eventually betrayed to the authorities only a year later.

He was tortured, and paraded through the streets of Glasgow before being hanged for treason at Glasgow Cross.  As he mounted the scaffold, an old woman spat on him and shouted, “A curse be on your popish face, Ogilvie!” to which he responded, “And a blessing be upon your bonny face, Madam!”

St John’s place of burial is unknown, but his remains are thought to lie in a pauper’s grave somewhere near the place of execution.

Ogilvie’s last words were “If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me but the prayers of heretics I will not have.”  He then threw his rosary into the crowd.

John Fagan’s Miracle Cure…

The parish of Blessed John Ogilvie in Easterhouse, Glasgow, was home to John Fagan, a worker at the Glasgow docks.  In 1967, Fagan developed a large tumour in his stomach and the entire parish prayed to Blessed John for a miracle. The parish priest, Father Thomas Reilly, pinned a medal of Blessed John to Fagan’s pyjamas.  Their prayers were indeed answered. 

His wife kept vigil at his bedside and he had slipped into a coma.  The family doctor visited late at night and told Mary she had to prepare herself, as he expected her husband to die during the night and that he would return in the morning to sign the death certificate. In the early hours of the morning John spoke to Mary, who was shocked when he told her he was hungry and asked for something to eat. He had not eaten for months. She made him an egg and toast which he ate.  In the morning, the doctor returned and was so amazed to see John sitting up in bed talking that he collapsed into a chair.  The news of these strange events spread all over Glasgow and beyond.  Medical examinations did indeed prove that there was no longer any sign of the tumour.  The Vatican was informed and the process of investigation began.  Father Reilly was named as the Vice Postulator of the cause and all necessary papers were sent to Rome.

Eventually, the miracle was declared and nine years later, on 17 October 1976 Pope Paul VI canonised John Ogilvie. John Fagan had been in the army in Rome in 1944 when the city was liberated from the Nazis.  He found himself on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, looking at the magnificence of the Vatican.  Little did he realise that three decades later he would return there to play a major role in the making of a saint. John Fagan and his wife photographed (right) at the canonisation of Saint John Ogilvie SJ. 

So, why did John Ogilvie sacrifice his life? 

John Ogilvie died for witnessing to his beliefs in a world hostile to the values of Christ, i.e.  a Scotland which had rejected the Catholic Faith.  Yet, his martyrdom made a deep impression on many who witnessed his execution.  The blood of the martyrs is so often the seed of the blossoming Church.  Sadly, however, this has not been the case in Scotland, where the martyr’s death is repeatedly downplayed by the Scottish hierarchy in the cause of what is manifestly false ecumenical progress.  The last time we checked, for example, the tourist bus informed visitors to the city that Glasgow Cross is famed for the way gossipy women used to be placed in the stocks and pelted with rotten tomatoes. There is no mention of Scotland’s only post-Reformation martyr, canonised as recently as 1976, who was executed on that very spot. The application of so-called “Tolerance and Diversity” has a way to go yet in Scotland, where religious indifferentism is writ large. Priests like John Ogilvie, who sacrificed their lives in defence of the ancient Mass, have been replaced by priests who won’t even offer the new Mass on their day off.  So, what went wrong?  Ecumenism? Inter-religious dialogue? Vatican II? Paul VI’s new Mass? Lowering of seminary standards for entrance? Ignoring the Church’s criteria for entry into seminary? What then? 

Comments invited…    

Comments (30)

  • editor

    For the record, an English reader, resident in Scotland, is keen for me to point out that St John Ogilvie is not the only Scots martyr – although he is the only Reformation martyr who was executed in Scotland.

    Another Scots priest, Venerable George Douglas, is mentioned in the “Acts of English Martyrs Hitherto Unpublished” by J.H. Pollen SJ (Ed), 1891.

    Here’s an extract:

    Venerable George Douglas, a Scotch (sic) priest. He was taken at Ripon and brought up for examination for alleging that the children of priests were illegitimate, and denying the false bishops to be really bishops, and was thereupon cast into a dark prison… He was a very learned man, and handled Catholic controversy with such force against the ministers, and so manifestly got the better of them that they retired in confusion and could answer nothing. He was sharp in speech, and inveighed without stint against the wives of ecclesiastics, and the ministers themselves. Being afterwards examined by the heretics whether he acknowledged the Queen to be Supreme Head of the Anglican Church, he most freely denied it, and proved his point with such authorities and arguments that for that cause alone he was convicted of high treason. He suffered on the 9th of September, 1587.”

    Herewith endeth the record!

    Happy Feast of St John Ogilvie to everyone! .

    March 10, 2020 at 12:22 am
    • Faith of Our Fathers

      Sorry for the late reply Ed . But was St John Ogilivie not just the only Public Martyr. Maybe am wrong ( as usual ) but am sure I read something many years ago that because of The Public Execution and the way after St John was Horribly Tortured, and endured it all with his integrity intact ,that many people became Catholics. The Protestant Higherarchy ( so to speak ) couldn’t have that ,so any other Catholics that were caught in the Act were Executed behind closed doors. This was to cut down on the publicity factor. As far as Tolerance and Diversity is concerned am of the same opinion as you. It applies to the Moslems and the Alphabet People but it will Never apply to us Catholics. That’s because they still very much fear us . No matter how few of us are still standing. St John Ogilvie was only ONE and the Protestant Masters of the time were terrified of him .

      March 11, 2020 at 8:30 pm
  • Frankier

    The Mass has been changed again. Communion on the tongue now “suspended” because of the coronavirus, or so they say anyway.

    March 10, 2020 at 12:50 am
    • editor


      Yes, someone (or two or maybe three) bloggers broke this news on the (drum roll) Coronavirus thread! You just have to wonder what goes through people’s heads, don’t you?

      March 10, 2020 at 12:56 am
  • Prognosticum

    So what went wrong?

    A question to which there is, unfortunately, no one or easy answer. It is important to remember that the decline of Christianity in Scotland, including Catholicism, and the rise of an increasingly militant secularism is mirrored in just about every other country in Western Europe, so I think that it is fair to say that we are dealing with causes and effects which transcend our borders and our lifetimes.

    That said, you are quite right to point out the insufficiencies of contemporary Catholicism in its response to this decline. A friend of mine who now lives in the north of Scotland was telling me recently how he had gone back for the first time in ages to what used to be his home parish in the central belt. When he had left it to go to university in the 1980s, it had a half dozen Masses between the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Evening. These Masses were more often than not packed to overflowing in what is a large Church by our standards. He was shocked–but emphatically not surprised–to find not only that the six had become one, but that this was scarcely populated by a congregation whose average age he estimated to be somewhere to the north of eighty. In fact, the only youngish person in the church was an altar server. As he was leaving, he turned to a lady next to him to ask for an explanation. Was it demographics? Had the Catholic population moved away? ‘Not really,’ she said. ‘Over the years they’ve just stopped coming.’

    Why was my friend not surprised at this decline? Because he recalled what parish life was like in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had gone to the local Catholic secondary school which gave him almost nothing in terms of catechesis. (He says that his primary school did a slightly better job.) Thus, like many, as he grew, his faith did not grow with him. (He was to fair better at university where the chaplain was excellent.) The parish priest of the time was very traditional and ran a tight ship, but neither he nor his curates were good preachers and seemed not to understand that the faith has to be taught and explained as well as celebrated. Most people, he thought, were going to Mass through cultural inertia, not because of their faith in Jesus Christ whom they knew probably even less well than they knew His Church. And so as the culture changed and the worship of God became the worship of self, this parish didn’t really stand a chance. The chickens of decades started coming home to roost and only a fool would bet on this church still being open ten years hence.

    This very bleak picture is, more or less, an icon of the situation of Catholicism in Scotland in our day. And it is scant comfort to know that our Protestant brethren aren’t faring that much better.

    When will it start dawning on the high command that Liberal Catholicism is every bit as doomed to failure as Liberal Protestantism? Not only do people not want it, but, by the liberals own admission (irony of ironies), they don’t need it! So why bother? It is hardly rocket science, is it? There is simply no market for a Church which sings out of the same hymn sheet as the world, only less glossy.

    Some of the saddest priests I know are the raging trendies of the 1970s and 1980s who were convinced that by liberalising the faith they would have kept their churches full. They very people they thought they were facilitating have deserted them and the pain of the more honest among them is awful to behold. But will they admit it? Nope. It would be existential suicide.

    It is said that Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same result, but expecting a different one. Ring a bell, Your Grace/My Lord?

    March 10, 2020 at 5:39 am
    • editor


      What you describe (and/or your friend) is completely typical of what has happened in Scotland, certainly in the central belt over the past 50+ years.

      In my own parish in the north of Glasgow, there were plenty of Masses every Sunday morning plus daily weekday Masses. The weekday Masses – like afternoon (around 5pm) Sunday Rosary and Benediction – were not well attended. That’s always been a feature of parish life, as far as I know. The church was full on Sundays, but not on weekdays. The one “extra” event that was always packed out were the parish missions, where priests from one of the Orders (Redemptorists or, usually in my parish, Passionists) would preach for two solid weeks; one week for women and girls and the second week for the males. Those ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons brought us out in force every evening, and during the day the priests, in their Habits, were seen walking round the parish, giving out little holy pictures and speaking to all and sundry. That apart, though, most of the time, the daily Mass and evening Benediction on Sundays, were quite poorly attended.

      Still, respect for the authority of the Church brought us out in great numbers for Sunday Mass. Since that authority has been hugely diminished, through the abandonment of the Traditional Faith and Liturgy which reinforced that divinely bequeathed authority, it’s hardly surprising that Sunday Mass attendance has dropped as well, and the situation which your friend describes pertains.

      Indeed, I was thinking only a day or two ago of an interesting paradox: that the people whom I – in my naïve youth – regarded as leading lights in the parish, those of the apparently strongest Faith in that they were there at everything – daily Mass, Rosary & Benediction, the lot! Those were the very same people who appeared alongside the priest distributing Holy Communion almost the minute the new Mass was introduced.

      So, we certainly cannot judge anyone by the number of their “church appearances” (!); notwithstanding the importance and desirability of attending non-obligatory Masses etc – it doesn’t necessarily equate to “strong Faith”.

      The decline in Sunday/Holy day Mass attendance tells its own sorry story, though. I wonder if the phenomenon of “live-streaming” Masses is set to be the new “new”? Thus, how long it will be before people don’t need to go to church at all, but simply tune in on their computers, remains to be seen. It’ll be then that “spiritual Communions” will – also – be the new “new”.

      Between these changes and Pope Francis’s “new humanism” where we get to be free from God altogether, it’s little wonder that, as you so insightfully point out, there is no market for a Church which is singing from the same hymn sheet as the world, only less glossy. Well said.

      March 10, 2020 at 10:46 am
  • gabriel syme

    A Happy Feast Day to everyone.

    I hope to be able to attend the 6.30pm mass in Glasgow (SSPX) today.

    What a shame that such an impressive and inspiring figure is today such a problem for ecumenical Bishops etc.

    Would that Catholic schools would teach about Ogilvie, rather than Barrack Obama for example.

    March 10, 2020 at 10:18 am
    • editor

      Gabriel Syme,

      Happy Feast!

      Snap! I hope to be at this evening’s Mass as well.

      When I taught in the Catholic sector it never ceased to amaze me how the teaching programmes listed every “hero figure” under the sun (notably Martin Luther King and another American gangster-turned-“Christian”, whose name escapes me at the moment) but never any of the saints. The closest we came was to do some work on Mother Teresa of Calcutta because she helped the poor and dying on the streets, so there was a reason to think she was a heroine. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.

      When I suggested certain hero/heroines I was told as follows – just two of many examples, to give a flavour of the “ethos” in contemporary Catholic schools:

      Saint Maria Goretti – NO! You’ll make girls feel they have to fight off that sort of attack, and they might lose their lives…

      Saint Peter – NO! You’ll put them off the Church if you talk about the Pope’s authority… [pointing out that, without papal authority, properly understood, the Church makes no sense, made absolutely no difference…]

      Sadly, it’s the young who are missing out, trying to make sense of the Church without any of the traditional means to do so. They know they don’t need the Church to tell them that they ought to help old ladies across the street, or give to the poor. It’s the whole idea of loving God, being charitable to people they don’t like, loving enemies, in short, of doing everything for the love of God – that’s why they need the example of saints for their reflection on this key truth; they need Catholic role models to follow – not the business woman, whose name I won’t give, who was invited into Catholic schools, appearing in a low cut outfit, to “inspire” the pupils to work hard to get rich in this world, just like she did, through her (wait for this) lingerie company.

      As I said before… Happy Feast of St John Ogilvie!

      March 10, 2020 at 11:07 am
    • Athanasius

      Gabriel Syme

      I’m glad you can make Mass at 6.30pm at the SSPX chapel in Glasgow today, I can no longer get to any evening Mass since the prior changed the time from its 30-year 7pm slot to coincide with rush hour traffic. Clever, eh?

      As an aside, there should also be Stations of the Cross before Mass. The SSPX always had Stations before evening Masses through Lent.

      March 10, 2020 at 12:02 pm
      • gabriel syme


        I sympathise – I live less than 4 miles (as the crow flies) from the Church, yet – thanks to traffic – it is difficult enough for me to get to 6.30pm evening masses on time.

        So coming from further afield is much more challenging.

        Immaculate Heart (Barlornock) sometimes has 7pm TLMs midweek – a later mass, with a much closer church, is so much easier to attend – especially considering childcare arrangements etc (as they are too young to take with me, at that time).

        St Andrews used to have stations of the cross every Friday in lent, but it seems there is nothing doing on Fridays at the minute. Although it is my understanding that the First Friday masses are to return.

        March 10, 2020 at 12:59 pm
      • Athanasius

        Gabriel Syme

        Yes, I live 30 miles east of Glasgow which means I have literally no chance of getting through traffic at the end of a day’s work. In fact, 7pm is even stretching it for me, as well as for others from further afield. Common sense seems to suggest that 7.30pm would be a better time all round given the unique circumstances most of us find ourselves in at present. It’s not like we can just walk around the corner to the local parish church. Oh well, just have to wait for that apostolic spirit to return.

        March 10, 2020 at 4:07 pm
      • Lily


        I always loved Stations of the Cross and Lent is never the same without them.

        March 10, 2020 at 3:45 pm
      • Athanasius


        Absolutely! Lent is the time for that most beautiful and penitential devotion to be made available to the faithful. Doing the Stations privately, whilst edifying, is not the same as Stations led by the priest in a parish.

        March 10, 2020 at 3:59 pm
      • Petrus

        Many people don’t realise that you can bring a crucifix to the church and a special blessing can be given by the priest which allows us to get all the benefits and indulgences that we would get from visiting the holy places in Israel. All we need to do is make the Stations of the Cross at home.

        March 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm
      • editor


        That’s an interesting point, information which I’ve never heard before, so thank you for that. And of course in this time of crisis it may be all we can do. But, having grown up before this madness began, I have to say that I feel tremendous pity for the young now, who are denied the experience of receiving the full import of Catholic liturgical devotions in their parish churches. It can’t be helped of course, and I know some good priests do try to keep things like Benediction, Rosary and Stations of the Cross alive, but they are few and far between.

        Still, thank you again for offering that option. Much appreciated.

        March 11, 2020 at 9:04 pm
    • Faith of Our Fathers

      Now now Barrack Obama is a great Man who done great things and if you don’t believe Me just ask Him . Am with you 100 % I personally didn’t think that they taught anything about Obama ( which as we know isn’t his real name ) . The only thing that I can think of him accomplishing in the USA was so called Homosexual Marriage. Of course he did try and make all Toilets Transgender so that’s 2 things at least he tried to accomplish. And Transgender Toilets of course was for Global Warming. Why flush Two when One will Do .

      March 11, 2020 at 8:43 pm
  • Lily

    A very happy Feast of St John Ogilvie to one and all at CT!

    I loved the story of the miracle cure of John Fagan. I remember hearing about it at the time. It was just amazing.

    He was just an ordinary working class man, living in what was regarded as one of the worst housing estates in Glasgow. It’s noticeable how God seems to make a point of choosing those whom “society” least respects to shower special graces and privileges on. There’s a message in there for “society” which looks up to all the wrong people, the celebs, the “intellectuals” etc.

    March 10, 2020 at 3:44 pm
  • westminsterfly

    Yes, that was a great miracle. I’m a bit concerned about the quality of some ‘miracles’ that have been used for recent canonisations / beatifications, but there’s no doubt about John Fagan’s miracle.

    March 10, 2020 at 4:30 pm
    • editor


      Yes, that was some miracle.

      The first person I ever heard speaking about John Ogilvie, was my grandfather. He used John Ogilvie to teach me about the priesthood. He often spoke of him and so it was a consolation when he passed away on the 10th March.

      I have to admit, though, that the hymn to St John Ogilvie has one horrendous tune – in fact, to call it a “tune” is stretching it a bit. We “sang” it this evening at the end of Mass. I’ve just spent a few minutes trying to find it on YouTube but no luck. If anyone else can find a version I’d love to hear it, in case there is another rendition out there. Our congregation valiantly attempted to sing it well but the tune is not easy at all. I can usually pick up a tune quickly but I struggled with this till the bitter end! And have done every time I’ve been faced with the prospect of singing it.

      I don’t know who composed the music but he/she needs help to de-compose it, so to speak, and start again… 😀

      March 10, 2020 at 8:56 pm
      • gabriel syme


        The hymn sung last night was written by a Mother Long RSCJ, though I do not know in what year.

        I found a reference saying that it is sung to the tune of “Blaenwern” – which is a Welsh Hymn from the early 20th century.

        I am on my lunch break at work just now so I cant listen to verify if that is the tune we used. (I would not be popular for blaring welsh hymns around the office).

        However, You Tube has several versions of the Blaenwern hymn, so it should be easy to check if it is the same tune we had last night, or if the reference I found refers to a different setting.

        The St Mungo Music website refers to an mp3 of the Ogilvie hymn, but seemingly it is unavailable.

        I also found a different Hymn regarding Ogilvie, dating from 1929. See here:


        (I have actually visited St Thomas’ Church, Keith, linked above).

        March 11, 2020 at 12:29 pm
      • Petrus

        Gabriel Syme,

        Blaenwern is not the tune that is sung at the parish in Glasgow.

        March 11, 2020 at 4:15 pm
      • gabriel syme


        Thanks for clarifying that.

        The tune used at St Andrews is the one I was semi-familiar with having heard the hymn before, but not for years (I had no idea what the music was called, if anything).

        March 11, 2020 at 9:38 pm
      • editor

        Gabriel Syme,

        The words in that version (link) are infinitely preferable to the “On the battlefields of Scotland” version. Infinitely.

        It would be worth checking out the music, in the hope that the tune is also an improvement, but on a quick look I can’t see any link to the music. Hint, hint!

        March 11, 2020 at 5:38 pm
  • editor

    A reader, a musician, who is “self-isolating” from the blog during Lent, checked out the hymn to St John Ogilvie online and emailed the following message:

    “Yikes – it is a bit convoluted! If I were trying to march to that, I would probably trip over myself!”


    See below – those who can read music, may judge for themselves… And if anyone knows of any battlefield connected to the saint, let us know! Until then, I’ll continue to assume that this is poetic licence – in the extreme!

    March 11, 2020 at 9:42 am
    • gabriel syme


      I do not know of any battlefields connected to Ogilvie.

      The lyrics refer to the “gates of hell contending”, so could the reference be to a spiritual battlefield?

      Or perhaps a reference to the contemporary Scottish “battle” between the Catholic faith and the various heretical cults the reformation spawned?

      In my novus ordo days, I remember attending an Ogilvie event at St Aloysius.

      It was an “ecumencial event” and so the usual exercise in nonsense, whereupon everyone (including several protestant ministers / shamen) pretended to honour Ogilvie, while carefully avoiding any mention of why and how he had died.

      If you recall in St Aloysius, there is an Ogilvie shrine on the LHS, down near the sanctuary and sacristy. And the floor there is raised up about 3 stairs from the main body of the Church.

      My main memory is of the Jesuits and the protestants all hovering around the shrine during the proceedings, pretending to have lots in common.

      Anyway, wouldn’t you know it, one of the protestant representatives fell down the stairs in the most theatrical of fashion.

      I remember thinking that this may have been an indicator as to what Ogilvie himself had thought of the event!

      March 11, 2020 at 12:38 pm
    • Petrus


      I have to disagree with your musician friend. It’s a very easy tune; not too high and not too low. The melody of the opening line is repeated three times throughout.

      The problem is the hymn isn’t that well known. Musically speaking, something like “Sweet Heart of Jesus” is much more difficult. We all know that so well so it doesn’t seem as difficult.

      I would agree with Gabriel – it’s spiritual battlefields, not literal.

      March 11, 2020 at 4:07 pm
      • editor


        My server nephews asked Father last night why he had chosen a different tune from last year – this one, believe me, was not remotely easy to sing. I can pick up a tune very quickly but I’ll be into my older, OLDER age before I learn that one. To be brutally frank, the word I used last night to describe it is “horrendous”. Father did not excommunicate me, so I am guessing he at least sympathised, if not entirely agreed, with me.

        So, I’m guessing you may be thinking of the tune they’d sung the previous year, which Father replaced this year because he thought the congregation were not sure of it last year. However, I wasn’t there last year, so I can’t be certain. One of the boys today sang a line from the tune which was sung the previous year, and I think that one rang a bell with me, and was very much easier to sing than last night’s tortuous version.

        It was so tortuous, and I don’t often say this, that if it is ever sung again, I won’t even try to join in – I’ll pray, instead, a short prayer of reparation to St Cecilia!

        March 11, 2020 at 5:29 pm
      • Petrus


        No, I’m not thinking of last year’s tune. I know both tunes and I can read the music you posted above.

        March 11, 2020 at 8:01 pm
      • editor


        Interesting. I had only ever heard the one tune, which was OK but never a favourite of mine. The one last night was certainly not inspiring of any devotion, in my humble opinion, so on that, we will simply have to agree to disagree. I’ll allow that 😀 (this time!)

        March 11, 2020 at 9:05 pm
      • Athanasius


        The secret is to stick with the more familiar, easier to sing, hymns that we all recognise from childhood. I think that method is certainly more conducive to congregational singing and devotion. Keep it simple is the lesson, I suppose.

        March 11, 2020 at 11:30 pm

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