One fine day in October of 1978 I boarded a train that would take me from Waterloo, Ontario, to Toronto. A kind looking lady shared my compartment. Initiating conversation, she told me about her enthusiasm for the writings of Malcolm Muggeridge, an Englishman regarded by many as one of the greatest journalists of the 20th century. She could not have chosen a more appropriate opener. “I am on my way to an editorial meeting in Toronto,” I told her, “where I will be speaking with the very same Malcolm Muggeridge”—from her point of view, a surprising response. God-incidences like this must happen for a purpose. Here was “St. Mugg,” as he was called, in full panoply, famous enough to endear himself to my co-traveler, humble enough to spend time with a struggling Catholic newspaperman, charismatic enough to establish a sympathetic bond between two strangers on a train.
Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge, known professionally as Malcolm Muggeridge, was born in 1903 in Sanderstead, Surrey, the third of five sons. Throughout his life he saw himself as an instinctive disbeliever. He was so inclined to disbelieve practically everything he encountered that he found it difficult to believe almost anything. This was a personal trait that contributed to his success as a journalist and gave him an edge that endeared him to skeptics. But integrity, not skepticism, proved to have a firmer hold on him.
At the beginning of 1933, Muggeridge made his way from Moscow, where he was reporting for the Manchester Guardian, to the Ukraine to investigate reports of a famine. “I will never dare forget this,” he wrote. “Farmers kneeling in the snow and begging for bread.” His reporting for the Guardian helped bring the genocide in the Ukraine to the world’s attention. At the same time, a certain Walter Duranty, writing for the New York Times, denied the existence of the famine and, nonetheless, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Muggeridge had little regard for Duranty, calling him “the greatest liar I have met in journalism.” The experience left Muggeridge thoroughly disillusioned with Communism in Russia and socialism in general. In 2008, on the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian famine, Malcolm Muggeridge—and another British journalist named Gareth Jones, who had also written about the famine and supported Muggeridge’s reporting on it—was posthumously awarded the Ukrainian Order of Freedom to honor his service to the country.
In 1973 Muggeridge resigned as Rector of the University of Edinburgh to protest student demands for a liberal distribution of “pot and pills.” As Rector, he expected his students to spearhead progress, produce outstanding works of art, and take their place as astute political leaders. Instead, Muggeridge saw them as degrading themselves with “the resort of any old, slobbering debauchee in the world at any time—Dope and Bed.” Ironically, the two loudest voices denouncing his stance came from chaplains.
A more personal example of his integrity involved “the person I most loved in the world, my wife Kitty.” Malcolm’s wife was desperately ill and her attending physician gave her only an outside chance of surviving. An emergency operation was necessary, but first a blood transfusion was needed. At the very prospect that he could be the blood donor, “an incredible happiness amounting to ecstasy” surged up within him. His blood count was taken and found to be suitable. Malcolm and Kitty were then united through a simple glass tube with a pump in the middle. The health-giving blood began to flow from one to the other. “Don’t stint yourself, take all you want,” Muggeridge shouted to the doctor, as he perceived the immediate and salutary effect his gift had in restoring color to his wife’s face. It was the turning point; from that moment Kitty began to recover. Looking back on the incident, Muggeridge wrote: “At no point in our long relationship has there been a more ecstatic moment than when I thus saw my life-blood pouring into hers to revivify it.” To give life is the purpose of love.
Malcom and Kitty’s marriage was not without its challenges. Responding to allegations in a 2015 book that Malcolm (along with other BBC broadcasters) had been a “groper,” Sally Muggeridge, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, responded that her uncle was “anything but a saint in his first sixty years,” and “had caused much hurt to those close to him, particularly his wife, my Aunt Kitty.” She went on to say that after his embrace of Christianity in his sixties, “I knew him as a devout man of faith with whom I enjoyed long country walks near his home . . . deep in conversation about religious matters. Sexual impropriety was neither feared nor encountered.”
Conversion can be a long, convoluted process. Muggeridge was open to whatever was reasonable or beautiful. He loved the fine arts, and was inspired by the writings of Cardinal Newman, Shakespeare, Pascal, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and St. Augustine. He found the Gospels “irresistibly wonderful as they reduce the jostling egos of now—my own among them—to the feeble crackling flicker of burning sticks against a majestic sunset.” How, except for divine intervention, could such loosely constructed narratives written in an ancient language, and after so many centuries, “still have the power to quell and dominate a restless, opinionated, over-exercised and under-nourished twentieth century mind?”
But it was his personal friendship with Mother Teresa that may have been the tipping point for Muggeridge’s conversion. As he confessed in his final book, Conversion: A Spiritual Journey (1988), “Mother Teresa is, in herself, a living conversion: it is impossible to be with her, to listen to her, to observe what she is doing and how she is doing it, without being in some degree converted.” There was no book he had ever read, no lecture he had ever heard, and no service he had ever attended, “that has brought me nearer to Christ, or made me more aware of what the Incarnation signifies for us and requires of us” than the living example of Mother Teresa.
Malcolm and his wife Kitty formally entered the Catholic Church on the 27th of November, 1982, at the Chapel of Our Lady, Help of Christians, in the Sussex village of Hurst Green. In attendance was a group of children with Down syndrome who, he recalled, helped to make the occasion “an unforgettable experience.” His entry into the Church gave him a sense of deep peace. In his own words, it was “A sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that had long been ringing, of taking a place at the table that had long been vacant.”
Thomas Malcom Muggeridge, the unofficially canonized St. Mugg, passed away on November, 14, 1990, at his home in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, at the age of 87.