Thursday, December 01, 2005

yet another...

Farewell John Muggeridge - Dear Friend to Many, Constant Defender of Life, Faith, Truth
Much loved LifeSiteNews advisor, sometime writer passed from this life Nov. 25

By Hilary White

TORONTO, December 1, 2005 ( - It is sometimes possible to see in another indications of what men and women are called to be in this life. This Tuesday, at Toronto’s St. Vincent de Paul parish amidst the splendour of the Catholic Church’s Traditional Latin funeral rite, the pro-life community said farewell to one such man, John Muggeridge. In the last years of his life, John was on the board of advisors and penned a few stories for this service.

John died peacefully in Toronto of cancer which he had been battling with good humour for some years, in the early afternoon on Friday November 25, at Princess Margaret Hospital. He was lucid to the end, having received the last Sacraments of the Church and was surrounded by his family.

John Muggeridge may have been the bearer of an exceptionally famous name, but for himself, the quiet life as the paterfamilias of his large and boisterous Catholic family was his true calling. To most readers, John is probably best known as the son of the late Malcolm Muggeridge, and to Catholics as the husband of Anne Roche Muggeridge, the author of the Desolate City, one of the most salient analyses of the still unabated crisis in the Catholic Church. But to his family, local Canadian pro-lifers, writers, embattled political conservatives, journalists, fellow parishioners and friends John is remembered, in the words of one of his host of admirers, as “the sweetest, kindest, most decent human being we have encountered.”

He came to Canada after graduating from Cambridge University to pursue a teaching career. His first job was in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, where he met his wife, Anne Roche, the author and formidable defender of the Catholic Church (often from itself). The couple moved to Welland Ontario where they established themselves as the centre of the growing Canadian Catholic counterrevolution. Throughout the tumult of the 1960’s and 70’s they took on a host of causes in defence of truth and the sanctity of life including battling their own Church hierarchy over the inadequacies of the Canadian Catechism, the demolition of the Church’s liturgy, and what they perceived to be the lukewarm response of the bishops to political attacks on marriage and human life.

A long-time supporter of the Canadian conservative movement, John’s influence was such that though few “ordinary” Canadians would ever have heard of him, many of his friends are household names to those who read newspapers or watch television news.

In the chaotic week of John’s final illness, after his admission to Princess Margaret hospital on Thursday, the family was surprised to find a voicemail message from Conrad Black, an admirer of John’s late father, who asked to visit. The joke went around the circle of friends and family in attendance that it may have been the only message Lord Black left that week that was not immediately returned.

The idea, however, that he might have courted fame or conspired to influence would strike anyone who knew him as merely a joke. His preference was for his own dining table or the local pub and it was to him and his family there that the world would come.

John wrote little, largely reserving his mastery of the English language for his defences of the Catholic faith and the sanctity of life in such publications as the Human Life Review, of which he was a senior editor.

John, in his capacity as historical observer was among the first to comprehend the depth and scope of the danger of the left and the legalization of abortion represented to the Canadian polity. He was one of the few historians in Canada, for example, clearly to identify abortion and the feminist and liberal movements since Trudeau’s revolution with its post-war French Marxist roots.

Though John Muggeridge was for thirty years a teacher of English and history – at which he claimed that his greatest disappointment was that he had failed in his self-appointed goal of instilling in his English students the difference between “it’s” with an apostrophe and “its” without - it is not for his years of standing in front of classes that John will be remembered and thanked.

The quiet work of John and Anne for the defence of the Faith, of human life, of simple good sense and kindness spread from the Muggeridge dining table at their house in Welland to inspire all who came in contact with them. These included such Canadian luminaries as David Frum; Janet Smith, the leading defender of the Catholic teaching on artificial birth control; author and columnist George Jonas; Fr. Jonathan Robinson, author and founder of the Toronto’s Oratory of St. Philip Neri and David Warren the prominent columnist in the Ottawa Citizen whom John sponsored in his reception into the Catholic Church.

As Warren wrote in the Ottawa Citizen on Wednesday, John knew the great secret “that ‘instruction’ never works, that it all comes down to tutoring by example; and where love is not, nothing is learned.”

John Muggeridge loved easily and well and it was this love through which he taught. His wife, their children, their grandchildren, other people’s children, their vast collection of friends, the strays and spiritual orphans who were drawn to them, will carry this tutelage of Christian love with them: this is how we ought to be.

We at were honored to have had John associated with us. His advice and insight will be impossible to replace.

Editor’s Note: Hilary White is a staff writer for and lived as a tenant in John Muggeridge’s Toronto home for two and a half years where she learned many things.

(c) Copyright: is a production of Interim Publishing. Permission to republish is granted (with limitation*) but acknowledgement of source is *REQUIRED* (use

The Muggeridgiad

The last of the Muggeridge hordes have gone to their respective homes and we are, for the first time, alone in the house. And so much more alone than ever before.

All the remaining inmates of Manning Manor are going to be working the election which was announced Monday, so there will be little time for anything fun like mourning or blogging. Still, the electronic wake continues.

This is, again, from Warren. (I met George Jonas, of whom I had heard so very much over the Manning House breakfast table, for the first time and his piece on John will be appearing in the National Post tomorrow and I will probably stick it up here also.)

The good death of a good man

David Warren, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

As an earthling (some of my critics to the contrary), I rebel against the Christian idea of a "good death," or death more generally, especially when it deprives me of a man who was my best friend. And yet I have just seen this improbable thing: a perfectly "good death" by a man of whom no one would have expected less -- rosary in hand, having made his last Confession.

The death of John Muggeridge in Toronto Friday, at the age of 72, racked in all the pain of a metastasized cancer, but still in good humour, and lucid to the last, marks the sudden end of an era in my personal life. But I wouldn't be mentioning it in a national newspaper did I not also think him a man of national significance. He was nearly invisible as a public character, was aloof from conventional politics, had no ambitions in the media, sought no audience; and yet his influence was steady.

The many who filed yesterday into the unreserved pews of Toronto's Church of St. Vincent de Paul, to celebrate the old mass in its full splendour over Muggeridge's coffin, included many with well-known names -- by no means all of them Catholic. John was a man who, simply in being what he was, helped to keep the old Canada alive. Men and women of good will came to him, spontaneously.

Though an immigrant from England, and carrying that surname made too famous by Malcolm Muggeridge, his media-friendly father, John became unselfconsciously Canadian of the old school. He was a real authority on Canadian history, and broad reading in both English and French gave him the means to see our nation from its foundations, and see it whole. Married to an extraordinary woman from Corner Brook, N.L. (the surviving but institutionalized Anne Roche Muggeridge), the two together had a house in Welland, Ont. that many of their visitors thought of as a shrine.

Malcolm Muggeridge's Christian conversion and late-life reception into the Catholic Church -- his "media discovery" of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and related events -- were iconic for a generation of believing Christians, of all denominations, throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Yet how many know who led that notorious stray sheep into the Catholic fold? It was his son, John, and John's wife, Anne -- whose own husband had been her most remarkable convert. The son is father to the man, but sometimes also father to the father.

John wrote little, and that little hardly ever for the big papers, but I think of the essay he contributed to a transient publication of the long-defunct "Northern Institute," more than 30 years ago. It explained Pierre Trudeau's intellectual development, his outlook and his ambitions in power, better than any other writer had or would explain these things. The article demystified Trudeau for any intelligent reader. Instead, we continued listening to the mystified "talking heads."

Power we tend to acknowledge only where we see it dressed as power, but often as not the power is concealed. John Muggeridge's influence was always as a teacher, rarely as an author -- although the few things he so painfully wrote (he hated writing) showed him a master of the language. He'd been a schoolteacher, too, for his living, but that is not what I mean. He loved children with his whole heart (his many grandchildren and everyone else's), and the glory of him could be glimpsed when you saw him playing with a child. He would give himself entirely away. Similarly, in his many friendships, it was sometimes as if there was no self there, he was so perfectly sympathetic not merely with another person, but with the best in that person. This is the great secret of pedagogy: that "instruction" never works, that it all comes down to tutoring by example; and where love is not, nothing is learned.

could assemble a chorus-line of people to affirm that John was the kindest, sweetest, most decent human being ever. I heard several argue that he was a saint -- long before we were ever grieving. But the John I knew, and well, was no saint by natural disposition. He so much loved the world, and everything that was beautifully small; but he was equipped with no more than the standard human conscience. What made him "unnatural," as it were, was the recklessness with which he acknowledged Christ.

Recently, in these columns, I've been touching on the old political puzzle of "church and state." But while meditating on the life of John Muggeridge, as I have been doing inevitably since watching him die, a key to this relation has come home to me. It is that, in church and state alike, there must be an overarching appreciation of the importance of personal holiness. Without this, we have a dog's life, and there is nothing for church nor state to cherish.

David Warren's column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005