Mercy without boundaries

Mother It’s human nature to have a sense of indignation if someone mistreats you. When feelings and emotions are involved, passion and reason are often applied. There is also a tendency to love those who love us in return.

But with faith we are commanded not only to

Love our neighbour as ourselves, but to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us

(Matthew 5:43-48)  

Saint John Ogilvie is a shining example of someone graced with mercy and holiness. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy let us reflect on his life as we approach the 401st anniversary of his martyrdom at Glasgow Cross, on 10th March 1615.

In the painting on the side, by Scottish artist Gerard Burns, John is a young boy in contemporary clothes. The background is his Highland home, which he must leave to find his calling. An angel stands behind him as he clasps the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus to his heart. On his return to his birthplace, he is a Jesuit priest on a mission to reconcile Catholics to their faith.

In the testimony of William Sinclair one of his closest associates, he said:

‘He (Fr Ogilvie) lost no chance or opportunity in spreading the Faith.
He entered prisons, at very great risk to his own life. In all these actions he displayed such earnestness, keenness and ardour, that I could infer that his heart burned with a most fervent desire for spreading the faith’.

Sadly his mission lasted less than a year. An informer, seeking ‘instruction in the faith’, betrayed him. But despite his arrest and captivity, Fr Ogilvie was known to exercise compassion and good humour despite the sufferings he endured.

 ‘The heretics noticed how I returned blessings for curses and was good-humoured to those who where raging at me’.

(John Ogilvie SJ)St Ogilvie

Even the jailers marvelled at the patience of their prisoner, when he suffered eight days and nights of ‘the vigil’ (enforced sleeplessness).

Numerous tactics of favour and force were employed in attempts to get him to renounce his faith and divulge details of other Catholics, but he was resolute:

By betraying my neighbour, I would simply ‘offend God and kill my own soul’.

(John Ogilvie SJ)

John Fagan and his wifeBut by rejecting the spiritual jurisdiction of King James VI/I Fr Ogilvie was condemned to death for treason. On receiving his verdict, he thanked those assembled, shook their hands, gave the judge his blessing and offered his forgiveness to those present.

He also embraced the hangman and with deep compassion said ‘be of good cheer’.  At the point of death, the hangman with equal mercy hastened his death by pulling sharply on his legs.

This ‘ordinary Jesuit’ made a profound impression on numerous people during his life and after his deathGlasgow’s ‘Miracle manJohn Fagan experienced an inexplicable cure from terminal cancer following the intercession of the then ‘Blessed’ John Ogilvie in 1967.

(John Fagan and his wife at John Ogilvie’s Canonisation on 17th Oct 1976)

(The miracle of John Fagan – short film)

Saint John Ogilvie – a man of faith and mercy, pray for us and let your dedication to religious freedom shine bright today for people of all faiths!


b761 john ogilvie


Eleanor McDowell is author of the CTS booklet on St John Ogilvie, written to mark the 400th anniversary of his martyrdom on 10th March 1615.




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One comment on “Mercy without boundaries

  1. This otherwise fine picture of the Jesuit martyr is spoiled by the reference to ‘ dedication to religious freedom’ in the final prayer.
    Few, if any, 17th century Christians,Catholic or Protestant, believed in religious freedom.If their roles had been reversed Ogilvie would have condemned Abp. Spottiswoode if he had refused to abandon his Calvinism.

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