I didn’t give saints much thought until a week before I was received into the church when Father K, our parish priest, asked me if I had an attachment to any particular saint. He might as well have asked me if I had considered keeping a hippopotamus in a tank at the bottom of the garden and if so, what did I intend to call it. I admitted that I was completely ignorant about saints and he suggested St. Bridget, who, I guess, is the fallback saint for clueless Celtic Protestants like me. St Bridget sounded nice, but I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t bother to find out anything about her.
I had a last minute panic on the morning I was supposed to be received into the church. I wondered if I was going to be called Bridget during the ceremony and was worried that afterwards I might feel as if some stranger called Bridget had been received into the church instead of me. Seasoned Catholics will probably see this worry as being as naïve as Paddington Bear’s misapprehensions about the human world. In defence, I’ll only say that the first confirmation I attended was my own.
I told Fr. K that I would be much more comfortable if he used my middle name as I was sure that there must be a saint associated with that, although I had no idea who. He said that that would be fine.
After my confirmation, I did actually bother to do some research on google and found out that my middle name is associated with a medieval saint who did things, such as deliberately putting herself in danger, which seem totally incomprehensible to me although they probably made sense to people at the time. I felt no connection at all with this lady, but it probably served me right for not making any effort to choose someone.
I thought that was the end of the business. It wasn’t very satisfactory, but I had ticked the required box. However, it wasn’t the end of the story. Very recently I visited a church in which there is a shrine to St. John Ogilvie. He is the only Scottish Catholic martyr from the post-Reformation period. I was brought up in a family who had great respect for the Protestant martyrs, and as I walked past St. John Ogilvie’s statue, I thought about the many Scottish Protestants who lost their lives at the start of the Reformation.
It was safe to say that I had mixed feelings about St John Ogilvie, not least because life-size statues in churches take a bit of getting used to if you are brought up in the reformed tradition. As I sat in the church, I hoped that St John Ogilvie and the Protestant martyrs were shaking hands in heaven in a spirit of reconciliation.
When I got home, I looked up St. John Ogilvie on the internet and read that he, like me, was a convert from Calvinism. This completely changed the way I thought about him. Here was a saint who was relevant, and who could understand where I had come from and what I was going through as a recent Catholic convert. I also read that he concealed his Rosary beads during his trial and torture and that, at the last possible moment, he flung them into the crowd gathered to watch his execution.
Later that day I received an unexpected gift in the post. It was a book on praying the Rosary. I felt as if I, another Protestant convert almost 400 years later, had put out my hand and caught St. John Ogilvie’s Rosary beads.