By Hilary White
TORONTO, December 1, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) – 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 LifeSiteNews.com 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 LifeSiteNews.com 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 LifeSiteNews.com and lived as a tenant in John Muggeridge’s Toronto home for two and a half years where she learned many things.
See also tribute to John from Canadian writer David Warren as published in the Ottawa Citizen:
The good death of a good man