(Vatican Radio) This week, the Pontifical Scots College marks the 400th anniversary since it became a seminary for the formation of priests for Scotland.
The Scots College in Rome, founded by Pope Clement VIII in 1600 as a place for Catholic education at a time when it was illegal to provide it at home, was the home of sixteen students in 1616. One year previously, on 10th March, the Scottish Jesuit John Ogilvie was hanged and drawn at Glasgow Cross.
One year after his execution, the students at the Scots College were presented with a biography of the Jesuit. On hearing it, they agreed to take the Mission Oath, vowing to return to Scotland as priests. It was on 10th March 1616 that the Pontifical Scots College became a seminary.
Ogilvie was born in 1579, the son of a respected Calvinist. He was sent to the continent for an education, and in the midst of the troubles in the Europe of his time, he decided to become a Catholic in 1596. He joined the Society of Jesus e years later, and in 1610 he was ordained as a priest in Paris.
He pleaded with his superiors to be allowed to return to his own country, where the number of Catholics was decreasing all of the time. In November 1613, he returned to Scotland. His ministry lasted less than a year, though. He was discovered in October 1614 and was arrested for celebrating clandestine Masses in the homes of the few Catholics left in the area.
In the end, he refused to pledge allegiance to King James VI (James I of England) and for this he was tried. At the trial, he claimed that he would not acknowledge the King anymore than an ‘old hat’ and accused him of deserting God.
In his final moments, he entrusted his soul to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. His final words were, “If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me, but the prayers of heretics I will not have.” As he was pushed from the steps with a noose around his neck, he threw the rosary beads he had been hiding in his hand into the crowd. Legend has it that one of his enemies caught the beads and soon after, became a devout Catholic. John Ogilvie was martyred at the age of thirty six.
Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1929, recognising him as a martyr. However, it was not until 1976 when a man was miraculously cured of cancer that Saint John was canonised, by Pope Paul VI. He is the only Scottish martyr from the time of the Reformation.
The Mission Oath
From 1616, all students who entered the Pontifical Scots College in Rome would take the Mission Oath, offering themselves to God as priests who would return to the Scottish mission. An extract from the Oath reads: “I swear and promise that I will accept the clerical state with the approval of my superiors, and advance to the holy orders, including priesthood, whenever it shall seem best to those in charge.”
The last Mission Oath was taken in 1939. After the Second World War, it was felt that it was no longer necessary for every student to commit in such a formal way. However, as the Oath required that the individual pledge commitment to his superiors, and to return to his diocese as a priest whenever the superiors felt was right time, the ideals are the same today as they were in 1616.