New Zealand, the Church in

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

Author: Simpson, Robert L.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first reached New Zealand on October 27, 1854, when President Augustus Farnham, of the Australian mission, Elder William Cooke, and Thomas Holder, a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, arrived from australia. The missionaries worked first among European immigrants and then among the native Maoris, and the Church grew slowly at first, then steadily, so that by 1990 New Zealand had about 70,000 Latter-day Saints, two missions, and sixteen stakes.

The first two people baptized into the LDS Church in New Zealand were Martha Holder and her daughter Louisa. The first Church branch was established in April 1855 among the European immigrants in Karori, a suburb of Wellington. The April 15, 1881, assignment of Elder William J. McDonnel to go to the Maori people coincided with prophecies of at least five separate Maori tohungas (tribal priests) that the true church of God would soon come to New Zealand. The best-known of these prophecies was the one given by Paora Potangaroa in 1881. Collectively they helped the Maoris to readily identify with the Church when its missionaries came among them (Britsch, pp. 274-76). In 1883-1884, Elders Alma Greenwood and Ira Hinckley, Jr., were especially successful among the Maoris, baptizing several hundred converts and organizing thirteen branches.

SCRIPTURES IN THE MAORI LANGUAGE. Before the LDS missionaries arrived, the Bible had already been published in Maori by earlier Christian missionaries, but expanding Maori membership created an urgent need to have the Book of Mormon translated. Ezra F. Richards and Sondra Sanders, assisted by Henare Potae, Te Pirihi Tutokohi, and James Jury, local Maori members, published the first translation in 1889. During World War I, President Joseph F. Smith approved a second translation of the Book of Mormon, and Elder Matthew Cowley, a young missionary with unusual skill in the Maori language, was assigned to the work. He made changes in approximately 2,500 verses in the original translation, and the second edition appeared in 1917. Elder Cowley was then assigned to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, assisted by Wiremu Duncan and Stuart Meha. These translations appeared in 1919.

RELIEF SOCIETY, PRIMARY, AND THE MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION. The first branch Relief Society in New Zealand was organized in 1878, with Ann Jones as president. The first Maori Relief Society was organized in 1901, with Sister Mangu Reweti as president. In 1904, Sister Emma E. Wright, the wife of a missionary, was called as the first president of the Mission Relief Society, which coordinated the local units. Thereafter until 1931, the wife of the mission president presided over the mission Relief Society, primary, and Young Women Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA, now young women). Then in 1931, Hepera Takare Duncan became the first local sister to preside over the Mission Relief Society.

The first MIA was organized in the Auckland branch in 1907, and the first units among the Maoris came in 1918. Sister Una Thompson is remembered for her leadership of the MIA in those early years. The first Primaries were organized in 1913, with Sisters Ere Hapati Mete and Bessie Greening as presidents. Between 1928 and 1931, Sister Arta Romney Ballif, wife of the principal of the Maori Agricultural College, was instrumental in building the Primary association throughout the mission.

CHURCH SCHOOLS. Because many Maori converts lived in outlying areas with no schools for their children, the Church established schools in local branch meetinghouses as early as 1886. In 1907 the First Presidency of the Church authorized creation of a secondary school to train boys in farming, technology, and leadership skills, and to teach them religion. Accordingly, Maori Agricultural College was dedicated on April 6, 1913, in Korongata, Hastings, Hawkes Bay. A February 1931 earthquake rendered the buildings unsafe, and the Church closed the college.

Because many of the alumni of the college had become prominent Church leaders by the 1940s, Mission President Matthew Cowley recommended that a coeducational secondary school be established in New Zealand, with capacity increased from eighty to more than five hundred students. The First Presidency approved building the present Church College of New Zealand (CCNZ) at Temple View, near Hamilton. Since its inception in 1955, CCNZ has played a significant role in the educational and spiritual development of thousands of LDS high school students.

NEW ZEALAND TEMPLE. Prior to 1958, Latter-day Saints in New Zealand had to travel to the Hawaii Temple to receive the significant ordinances available only in temples. The decision to build a temple in New Zealand was announced by President David O. McKay in February 1955 and brought great joy among the local saints. The temple and college buildings were to be built simultaneously under the newly conceived Church Building Missionary Program, which provided for supervisory craftsmen to be called from the United States to construct the buildings with a local voluntary missionary labor force of hundreds of members, mainly Maoris, who would learn construction skills on the job. In less than two and a half years, both the temple and the college were completed at minimal expense, and hundreds of previously unskilled and unemployed Maori members had learned building skills and were qualified for gainful employment. E. Albert and Vernice Gold Rosenvall were called as the first president and matron. President McKay dedicated the temple on April 20, 1958, and the college on April 26. The Building Missionary Program was so successful that it was used for several years to construct Church buildings in other parts of the world. For years the New Zealand Temple served Church members living throughout the South Pacific, but since September 1984, temples have been in service in Australia, Samoa, Tonga, and Tahiti.

MATTHEW COWLEY. With the coming of World War II, all American missionaries were called home, but President Matthew and Sister Elva Taylor Cowley chose to remain in New Zealand with their family to supervise the work during the war. It was September 1945 before the Cowleys were released after seven and a half years of service. At the October 1945 general conference, Matthew Cowley was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was affectionately called their "Polynesian Apostle" by the Saints of the South Pacific. Six other men with New Zealand connections have been called as General Authorities, all in the quorums of the seventy: Douglas J. Martin, a native New Zealander, and former New Zealand mission presidents Rufus K. Hardy, John J. Lasater, Glenn L. Rudd, Robert L. Simpson, Philip T. Sonntag, and Rulon G. Craven.

The year 1958 was pivotal for the Church in New Zealand. In that year the temple and the college were completed, the first stake was organized in Auckland, and the mission was divided into two missions. Since then, the Church has shown increasing growth in New Zealand.



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