Remembering Fr Ted Mitchinson

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of English priest, Fr Ted Mitchinson, YCW chaplain in England and South Africa, and translator of Cardijn’s writings.

Born in Brockley, South London, in 1913, Edward Mitchinson was educated at the junior seminary at Mark Cross, before studying for the priesthood at the Propaganda College in Rome. Ordained in 1938, for the Southwark archdiocese, he first served as assistant priest in Gravesend for four years.

In 1942, he was appointed as YCW chaplain, which he held for 16 years, encouraging the movement during a crucial part of its development. He then became parish priest at St Mary Magdalen’s, Wandsworth in 1958, although retained his YCW links as diocesan chaplain.

He was the national chaplain of the English YCW from 1941 to 1958.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he worked with the YCW South Africa. Following a visit to South Africa, he was granted leave to serve there from 1970, undertaking a series of posts in the Cape and Natal.

Returning to the United Kingdom in 1982, he retired as chaplain to St Anne’s Court in West Wickham, and then St Mary’s, Worthing, in 1988.

He translated Marguerite Fievez and Jacques Meert’s biography, Cardijn, Life and Times into English.

He died on 9 April 1993 aged 79 following a heart attack.

Below we present his preface to Cardijn’s Vatican II book, Laymen (Laypeople) into Action

Stefan Gigacz

Preface to Laymen into Action

A significant number of priests, and bishops too, in practically every country, would rate Mgr. Joseph Cardijn as the biggest single human influence on their pastoral ideas and attitudes.

Layfolk would go further. Like the multitudes in St. John’s vision, a number past all counting from every race and tongue would gratefully ascribe their Christian way of life, their very belonging to the Church, their life-long Christian commitment, to Cardijn and the movement he founded. Setting out to found one movement, he has inspired a hundred others in the Church and beyond it. The Young Christian Worker movement was the unswerving object of his zeal; the whole lay apostolate has benefited from his vision. If his approach and method were unique, their very terms have now become the accepted parlance of the modern apostolate. Today the laity are moving into their own in the Church. Cardijn has contributed perhaps more than any other priest to this.

Joseph Cardijn was born into a Flemish working family on 18 November, 1882. In 1912, when he was curate in a suburb of Brussels, he formed the first group of young workers in a movement which has since developed world-wide proportions: Cardijn’s answer to the problem of de-christianization is to insert the whole of Christianity into the whole of life. Fifty years of commitment to this end, through a practical programme of apostolate, have made Cardijn a precursor of Pope John’s aggiornamento. It is not difficult to see his influence on all the most profound stirrings in the Church of the last forty years, and in the changes which Vatican II is bringing about.

If I may quote from an article which puts this very neatly: ‘Mgr. Cardijn has never claimed to be a theologian. But it is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which he has stimulated theological reflection…

Since the war, the treatise on the Church has been enriched with a most important chapter, hitherto unsuspected, on the theology of the laity, and the whole world knows how much this owes to the Young Christian Worker movement… Cardijn’s repeated insistence on the special and irreplaceable role of the laity, on the need for an organized lay apostolate, may seem trite to many of today’s young theologians.

We must not forget that it is largely thanks to him that they have become truisms, for they express an intuition which he was one of the first to perceive with intensity…. Did people, before him, talk of the theology of work? … His is the credit for realizing, before it was generally accepted, and for repeating endlessly, that man is an incarnate being, that we are not here to save souls, but to lead men to God, body and soul, together with their whole environment…. It was another of his innovations to dare to think in terms of the mass, without ever forgetting that the mass is made up of persons, who must be treated as free individuals, with respect for their personalities…. The present thought and the present life of the Church would not be what they are and would not have the vitality that all agree that they do have, if we had not profited from his perception and prophetic dynamic energy.’1

A course of Cardijn’s dialectic would be the best remedy for the fears and hesitations with which some of the Council’s changes have been received. The Church is not frozen, fixed and paralytic; she is the living, growing, transforming body of Christ. The good and desirable change is the one that is the fruit of a dialectic between reality and faith, between how things really are and how God wants them to be. The Church’s life must be a continued incarnation, a Christian transformation of reality, a Christian revolution of hearts and lives. It is this dialectic method of Cardijn’s which Pope John, in Mater and Magistra, took up and proposed to all as the best method of socio-religious education and apostolate.

This is, and looks like remaining, the only book Cardijn has written. That he should have written it at all, and then at the age of eighty-two, is something of a surprise, for his characteristic means of communication has always been the personal interview, a spoken meditation from the altar, round the table at meetings and what he would term his ‘fire-works’ from the rally platform. A fine selection of his lectures and addresses has been published in English in Challenge to Action; the contents of that book were originally addressed to Young Christian Worker audiences. This present book is addressed to all interested in the lay and social apostolate.

If I may add a personal impression, I see Cardijn as a small, neat, cassocked figure, with a rather puckish face, drawn in alternate lines of thoughtful concentration, which tell of the obsession of his life, and of a smile that accompanies his message of Christ’s love for the poorest, the most lowly of the workers. The short crew cut of hair, now white, adds to the dynamic, rather electric quality of his appearance.

At a study week or international conference, when he turns round before Mass and gives a spoken meditation, eyes closed as he slowly suggests thoughts for reflection, you know that he has been up at least an hour beforehand in prayer. He will pour out his heart for an hour at a time with fervent oratory on the human and divine dignity of young workers, and the glory of their mission, but in private life and conversation he will waste no single or idle word. At lunch-time during conferences, while the sweet is being served, he will slip quietly away, and by the time we are getting up from coffee, Cardijn has had his rest and is back at work at his desk. Whatever the occasion, he retires at night as soon as : politeness permits, for prayer and rest in preparation for the Lord’s work on the morrow. Such personal discipline is part of the secret of his unflagging zeal and generous readiness to undertake and carry through one vast missionary journey after another.

When this journeying is at an end, those who cannot hear him will be grateful for this book, through which this sound will go forth into all the earth and his words unto the ends of the whole world’.

Edward Mitchinson

24 March, 1964.


1Roger Aubert, in Hommage a Cardijn, Brussels, 1963.


Joseph Cardijn, Laymen into Action, YCW Melbourne, 1964, 175p. at pages xi – xiv.

Ted Mitchinson, Preface, Laymen into Action (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Ted Mitchinson (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)