MJ STEEL COLLIN explains how the recovery of a Glasgow cancer patient led to 17th century Catholic martyr being made a saint


In the business of Glasgow and saints, it’s normally St Mungo, St Thenew or St Columba who come to mind. However, in 1976, there was a newcomer to the pantheon, St John Ogilvie, who received his canonisation thanks to the rather unlikely figure of a former Glasgow dockworker in Easterhouse.

Who was St John Ogilvie?

St John Ogilvie was a Catholic Jesuit martyr who was hanged at Glasgow Cross on 10 March 1615 for his Catholicism. Born into a Calvinist noble family in Drum-na-Keith near Banffshire in 1579, he was educated by the Benedictines and Jesuits at a number of Catholic schools in mainland Europe. The end result was that he converted to Catholicism aged 17, joining the Jesuits in 1608. He worked in Rouen, Normandy, following his ordination, but wished to serve Catholics in Glasgow, where Catholicism was outlawed in 1560, making it a dicey business.
Ogilvie hoped that Catholic noble families would assist him when he came to Scotland in 1613, but that wasn’t the case. He went undercover, disguised as a horse seller, holding secret masses in private houses. It didn’t last long, and Ogilvie was betrayed in 1614. Despite being tortured, Ogilvie wouldn’t reveal the names of fellow Catholics and refused to give up his faith. On March 10, he was marched through Glasgow, hanged at Glasgow Cross and disemboweled. He was beatified as in 1929 for dying as a martyr, thereafter known as Blessed John Ogilvie.

St John Ogilvie

St John Ogilvie, a Scottish martyr, who was canonised after the recovery of a Glasgow cancer patient

The Miracle of John Fagan’s recovery

On March 4 1967, John Fagan, a former docker in Glasgow, lay at death’s door at his home in Easterhouse after battling stomach cancer. The doctor told Fagan’s wife, Mary, that her husband probably wouldn’t last the night, and promised to return in the morning.  The Fagans lived in a parish named after Blessed John Ogilvie. Along with others in the parish, the family prayed to Ogilvie to intercede before God for John Fagan’s miraculous recovery.
In the early hours of the next morning, it looked as if John Fagan had died. Mary checked him, but he appeared dead. She sat on for a few more hours, and was shocked when he called out to her, to inform her he was hungry! Given that his stomach had been destroyed by cancer, it was something of a shock.  The doctor was staggered when he returned to be told that the patient was at that moment tucking into a boiled egg.

Canonisation of St John Ogilvie

John Fagan went on to make a full recovery, and his case was put forward to the Vatican as proof of the required miracle that could make Blessed John Ogilvie a Saint. The Vatican investigated the matter thoroughly, taking several years.  Eventually, Blessed John Ogilvie was canonised in 1976, John Fagan and his wife making the trip to the Vatican to see the ceremony.
In the end, John Fagan wound up outliving, his wife and several of the people involved in the case. He moved to Livingstone in his later years, living a quiet life. Well, quiet apart from surviving another two cancer battles! Fagan died in 1993 following a stroke at the age of 79.


MJ Steel Collins
Leave a reply

Leave a Reply