Joseph F. Smith and the Hawaiian Temple

Richard J. Dowse

Richard J. Dowse,Joseph F. Smith and the Hawaiian Temple,” in Joseph F. Smith: Reflections on the Man and His Times, ed. Craig K. Manscill, Brian D. Reeves, Guy L. Dorius, and J. B. Haws (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 279–302.

Richard J. Dowse is a teacher at Lone Peak Seminary in Highland, Utah.

On June 11, 1843, to a large assembly of Saints at the Nauvoo Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith delivered a sermon on the doctrine of the gathering. He taught the purpose of gathering “the people of God in any age of the world,” saying, “The main object was to build unto the Lord an house whereby he could reveal unto his people the ordinances of his house and glories of his kingdom & teach the peopl the ways of salvation for their are certain ordinances & principles that when they are taught and practized, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.” [1]

The Prophet practiced what he preached by establishing the pattern of gathering Latter-day Saints to designated locations and then building temples. Subsequent Presidents of the Church continued to follow this pattern in their respective eras. Joseph Smith’s own nephew, Joseph F. Smith, not only embraced this precedent but expanded it. As the sixth President of the Church, he enlarged the previous pattern’s potential by introducing a model capable of accommodating the needs of a rapidly growing modern Church.

The seventeen-year administration of President Joseph F. Smith began in the dawn of the twentieth century, a period of development and increased prosperity for the Church. One significant milestone during his tenure was the Church’s becoming fiscally solvent. Despite such a monumental material achievement, however, Joseph Fielding Smith later recalled that his father’s “administration was noted, perhaps above all else, in the spiritual progress which had been made.” [2] The building of new temples in Canada and Hawaii was perhaps the most fitting symbol of the Church’s temporal and spiritual success in that era.

Joseph F. Smith led the Church through a pivotal time of transition in Latter-day Saint history. The genesis of one transformational change can be seen in the conception and building of these two temples outside the continental United States. Indeed, the first Church President from the second generation of Latter-day Saints introduced the next generation of temple architecture and construction.

Under President Smith’s direction, and due to his unique life experience, the Church was well-suited to embrace its increasing international presence in a paradigm-altering way. Evidence of this evolution is particularly manifest by President Smith’s singular role in the construction of the Laie Hawaii Temple. The purpose of this essay is to explore how President Joseph F. Smith’s integral involvement in the building of the Latter-day Saint temple in Hawaii resulted in the first temple “away from the traditional centers of Mormon colonization in Utah.” [3] This is significant because with the temple comes the introduction of Laie as an early prototype of gathering, which did not really take hold Churchwide until the mid-twentieth century.

In examining this topic, a series of questions will be addressed. First, what connections did Joseph F. Smith have with the Hawaiian Islands that led to the building of a temple there? Second, why and how was Laie selected as the location for the temple? Third, what events led to President Smith’s decision to build a temple in Laie, Hawaii, at that time in Church history? And lastly, what impact did the building of the Hawaiian Temple, as it was known, have on the Church today—nearly one hundred years later?

Aloha: Joseph F. Smith and His Connection to Hawaii

“It was on [the Hawaiian Islands] that President Joseph F. Smith began his missionary work,” eulogized Apostle Reed Smoot, speaking in a general conference several years after President Smith’s death. He continued, “Talk about people loving a man! I do not believe it is possible for human beings to love a man more than did the natives of the islands love President Joseph F. Smith.” [4] It is abundantly clear that the love, or aloha, felt by the Hawaiian Saints for their former missionary and prophet was mutual. This deep and abiding love began to take root early in Joseph F.’s life, when he was called to serve a mission in the Pacific Isles.

Much has been said and written concerning this first mission. In short, it was a foundational experience during Joseph F.’s formative years. Looking back, he said this mission changed him into “a man, although only a boy.” [5] Others sensed innate nobility and foresaw great potential in the young missionary with the impressive pedigree. Within his first few days in Hawaii, his mission president, Francis A. Hammond, recorded, “He is not yet 16 years old, but bids fain to make a mighty man in this Kingdom.” [6]

Another prediction concerning the potential of young Joseph F. was made during his less-heralded second mission to Hawaii. Just six months after he returned home from a three-year mission to Great Britain, a call came to go back to Hawaii, or the Sandwich Islands as they were called at the time. On January 24, 1864, he nonchalantly recorded in his address book, which doubled as a makeshift diary: “I was called to take a mission to the Sandwich Islands, in company with E.T. Benson & L. Snow of the Twelve & W.W. Cluff and A.L. Smith.” [7] Elder Lorenzo Snow reported that while he was in Hawaii, the Lord revealed to him that Joseph F. Smith “would someday be the Prophet of God.” [8]

Indeed, the young elder eventually became the prophet of God, and interestingly, it was following Lorenzo Snow’s own tenure as prophet. In fact, thirty-five years after Elder Snow’s prophecy, Joseph F. became President Snow’s counselor in the First Presidency. President Smith served in that capacity with President Snow for three years before succeeding him as Church President. [9]

The purpose of Joseph F. Smith’s second mission to the Islands was to rectify the problems resulting from Walter Murray Gibson usurping Church leadership in Hawaii. The Sandwich Islands Mission was vacated by all Utah missionaries in 1858 following a largely unsuccessful attempt to create a Hawaiian gathering place on the island of Lanai. [10] The catalyst for the mass exodus of missionaries is historically reported to be the tensions that existed in the Utah Territory between the Latter-day Saints and the US government during the Utah War. [11]

Gibson took control of the Church on the islands several years after Church leadership was placed solely in the hands of Hawaiian members. Apparently on his way to Japan to spread the gospel, Gibson stopped in Hawaii and must have become interested in the prospects of the Sandwich Islands. [12] Upon introducing himself to the Hawaiian Saints, Gibson claimed that “he had been sent by President [Brigham] Young, not only to take charge of the mission on those islands, but to preside over all the churches that might be raised up on any of the Pacific islands.” Gibson further purported to be “equal to, and entirely independent of President Young.” [13]

He settled upon the title and office of “Chief President of the Islands of the Sea and of the Hawaiian Islands, for the Church of Latter Day Saints.” As “Chief President,” Gibson reconstructed the Church, sold Church membership and priesthood offices, reintroduced native superstitions, and defrauded the Saints out of personal and Church property. Gibson used the funds he procured through simony and extortion to purchase land upon which to build his own “little kingdom.” [14] In time he raised “sufficient means for the purchase of one half of the island of Lanai.” [15]

Gibson’s story is likely the most chronicled episode in the history of the Church in the Pacific. [16] In late December 1863, several of the Hawaiian elders wrote letters to their former missionary friends in Utah, detailing all of Gibson’s actions and seeking advice on how to proceed. The letters were translated and given to the First Presidency, who immediately dispatched the aforementioned delegation to go to Lanai and investigate the claims made against Gibson. [17]

On April 8, 1864, an obstinate and unrepentant Gibson was officially excommunicated from the Church. After mitigating the situation, Elders Benson and Snow returned home. Responsibility for the mission was left in the hands of the mission president they had just appointed: twenty-five-year-old Joseph F. Smith. [18]

Gibson refused to deed the Lanai property back over to the Church, so the Saints were counseled to return to their home islands and wait for their respective branches to be reorganized.

Meanwhile, President Smith and his remaining companions commenced a tour of the islands. They went to work reorganizing branches, rebuilding the Church, and inciting a “reformation” among the Hawaiian members. [19] As one historian explained, “Even though discouraged, [Joseph F. Smith] still loved the Hawaiian people and hoped for their success as Latter-day Saints. Out of this hope he developed the idea of establishing a new gathering place somewhere in the islands where the Saints could be taught manual skills and how to live according to gospel principles.” [20]

The young mission president shared this idea with the prophet Brigham Young, and apparently the prophet approved. [21] Later that year, President Young deemed it time to release President Smith from his duties and assigned two men to replace him. These men were Francis A. Hammond, a former missionary to Hawaii, and George Nebeker, a seasoned Church man with colonization experience. They were sent to the Islands with specific instructions from the prophet to purchase land as a gathering place for the Hawaiian Saints. [22] After scouting for various possible locations themselves, the new co-presidents ultimately decided to acquire the plantation recommended by President Smith and his companions as the most suitable place for colonization. The plantation was on the island of Oahu, at Laie. [23]

On his second mission to Hawaii, Joseph F. Smith salvaged a church on the brink, reformed it, and formulated a plan to gather the Saints. Then, during the 1880s, on what has been called his third mission to Hawaii, President Smith, at the time an Apostle and the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, used his spiritual stature and administrative prowess to prepare Laie and its Saints for a temple.

At the height of the federally sponsored antipolygamy crusade, President Smith was forced into exile. US marshals had a keen interest in detaining him due to his experience as a recorder in the Endowment House. More particularly, they desired to obtain the records of the Endowment House in his possession, which would undoubtedly be key evidence in prosecuting many Church leaders. [24] Anxious that neither fall into the hands of their enemies, President John Taylor was persuaded to send his counselor on a “mission” to Hawaii in late 1884.

Accompanied by his wife Julina and their infant daughter, President Smith would make Hawaii his home for the next two and a half years. It was undoubtedly an incredible burden to be so far away from family for such a long time. Julina left behind five children, the youngest of whom had just turned three. Joseph was separated from four other wives and seventeen children. [25] Despite their personal difficulties, the Smiths’ contributions provided a tremendous boon to the struggling settlement in Laie.

As expected, the Church’s efficiency in Laie increased in many areas thanks to the leadership supplied by the extended presence of a member of the First Presidency. [26] A surprising example of his servant-leadership approach is reflected in the minutes of a council meeting held at Laie in September of 1885. According to the record, President Joseph F. Smith “suggested the propriety of giving Laie a separate branch organization” and the motion passed unanimously. Enoch Farr, who was serving as mission president, was appointed president of the new Laie Branch. The record continues, “[Farr] chose Joseph F. Smith and Albert W. Davis as his counselors, and Van R. Miller was appointed clerk of the Branch.” [27] Having the second counselor in the First Presidency simultaneously serving as the first counselor in a branch presidency is perhaps the best example of the uniqueness of the privilege provided to the people of Laie at that time.

President Smith’s hands-on service was not limited solely to ecclesiastical matters, however. “Besides these duties, he was constantly assisting in the building of fences, cultivating fields, shingling houses, making sugar, mending wagons, and otherwise laboring with his hands.” [28] Occasionally, the scope of President Smith’s duties expanded even further, adding to the already unconventional work for a member of the Church’s First Presidency. For example, President Smith’s wife Julina had assumed the responsibility of being the colony’s midwife. When the time came for her to have her own baby, however, midwifery duties fell upon her husband. On April 21, 1886, she gave birth to a baby boy, Elias Wesley, who was delivered by his father. [29] Interestingly, Wesley, as he was called, would return to his birthplace nineteen years later to serve as a missionary, and later still to serve as the area’s mission president on two occasions. [30]

When President Taylor’s severe illness demanded Joseph F. Smith’s return to Utah, he left Hawaii on July 1, 1887. [31] He undoubtedly left Laie in a better position temporally and spiritually. Under President Smith’s tutelage, “the church was fully organized and functioning, including all the auxiliaries,” and the work of the Hawaiian Mission was streamlined and expanded. [32] But perhaps the most significant impact of Joseph F. Smith’s time in Laie is that it may arguably have been one of the greatest contributing factors for building a temple there.

The Hawaiian Saints and the Gathering

During his first mission to the Sandwich Islands in 1854–57, Elder Smith and his fellow missionaries clearly taught the doctrine of gathering to a centralized Zion. This was consistent with the direction of the day. Their native converts were taught that the purpose of gathering was to receive temple ordinances necessary for salvation. At that point in time, these essential blessings were only available in Salt Lake City. [33]

A longing to heed the call to “come to Zion” [34] compelled converts the world over to brave the arduous trip to Utah. Many faithful Saints in the South Pacific felt that same desire, yet relatively few were able to make the journey to Salt Lake to obtain the spiritual blessings they desperately wanted. Those who were able to emigrate, however, began visiting the Utah Territory as early as 1869. [35]

One contemporary missionary, Castle Murphy, noted how “handicapped the saints . . . were without having a Temple nearby.” He explained the extent to which many Hawaiian Saints were willing to sacrifice in order to “come to Utah to receive their endowments and sealings.” “Some,” he wrote, “used their life’s savings to make the trip and returned home in debt.” [36]

Others who traveled to Utah for the temple, however, never made the return trip. By the late 1880s, a portion of northwest Salt Lake City was home to a small community of about seventy-five Hawaiians. [37] This gathering led to the August 1889 founding of a Hawaiian colony at Skull Valley. It was located west of Salt Lake City in Tooele County. Fittingly, the community was named Iosepa (pronounced yoh-seh-pa), which means “Joseph” in Hawaiian. It was a tribute to their beloved missionary and Apostle, Joseph F. Smith. [38]

“The Hawaiian Saints desired to obtain their endowments and be sealed together as families,” observed one historian. “Endowment work,” he continued, “was undoubtedly the major motivation for gathering to Zion.” [39] Other scholars agree that the reason behind the Hawaiian pioneers’ settling in desolate Skull Valley rather than a more agronomically favorable location was that such available locations were “far from a temple, and that was the reason that Hawaiians wanted to be in Utah.” [40]

The agricultural village was supervised by several former Hawaiian missionaries. It was partially modeled after, and managed much like, the plantation in Laie. The colony lasted for twenty-eight years and, in 1915, was a profitable, thriving community with 228 inhabitants. Even though Iosepa was a successful community with satisfied residents, and the only home many of its younger residents had ever known, by early 1917 the last group of Hawaiians had left. The ranch was sold shortly thereafter, and until fairly recently, there was little recognition or remaining evidence that the largely forgotten colony ever existed. [41]

A historic announcement in the 86th Semiannual General Conference of 1915 incited the exodus from Iosepa. Shortly after ten in the morning on Sunday, October 3, the prophet and President of the Church stood to address the congregation seated in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Near the end of his sermon, Joseph F. Smith explained:

Now, away off in the Pacific Ocean are various groups of islands, from the Sandwich Islands down to Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand. On them are thousands of good people . . . of the blood of Israel. When you carry the Gospel to them they receive it with open hearts. They need the same privileges that we do, and that we enjoy, but these are out of their power. They are poor, and they can’t gather means to come up here to be endowed, and sealed for time and eternity, for their living and their dead, and to be baptized for their dead. What shall we do with them? Heretofore, we have suffered the conditions that exist there. . . .

Now, I say to my brethren and sisters this morning that we have come to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to build a temple that shall be dedicated to the ordinances of the house of God, down upon one of the Sandwich Islands, so that the good people of those islands may reach the blessing of the House of God within their own borders, and that the people from New Zealand, if they do not become strong enough to require a house to be built there also, by and by, can come to Laie, where they can get their blessings and return home and live in peace, having fulfilled all the requirements of the Gospel the same as we have the privilege of doing here.

President Smith then proposed to “build a temple at Laie, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.” All present manifested their approval by raising their right hand, to which the prophet noted, “I do not see a contrary vote.” [42]

In the announcement of a temple in Laie, the Hawaiians living in Iosepa also heard a call to return to their homeland. They felt the need to help build Zion there, complete with its temple. Temple blessings led to the formation of the colony at Iosepa, but it was the blessing of having a temple in their native land that caused the Hawaiian Saints to abandon it. [43] The establishment and eventual disbandment of Iosepa can be valuably viewed as a microcosm for the purpose and evolution of the doctrine of gathering Zion.

Furthermore, the establishment and building up of Laie, and the construction and dedication of a temple there, marked the genesis of a shift in gathering and temple building for the Church. This temple, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, became the first realization of the long-foreseen direction of the gathering of scattered Israel on the “isles of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:8). It was a forerunner to the future method of building Zion in the dispensation of the fulness of times.

Ground Dedicated for a Temple in Hawaii

It is no secret that Joseph F. Smith loved Hawaii—the place, the poi, the pace, and especially the people. [44] He prized these sites that had had such personal significance from the formative years of his life and faith. Tellingly, he visited the islands more throughout his life than any other destination outside of the American West. In fact, President Smith traveled to Hawaii four times during his administration as Church President alone. [45]

President Smith was continually impressed by the progress he observed in Hawaii, and among the members there, during his visits from January 1899 to May of 1915. Observations from his 1915 trip were summarized in a letter written from Laie to his son Hyrum M. Smith. After detailing infrastructure improvements and other modern advancements, he reported, “In brief, I may say our saints in Hawaii, especially those of this little colony and those of Honolulu, are apparently in vastly better temporal conditions than I have ever seen them in before. Every indication points to the belief that they have made excellent spiritual progress also.” [46]

This must have been gratifying to the prophet who was known to have “kept a careful eye on Hawaii.” The number of missionaries sent there increased during his presidency (at one point by more than 50 percent), as did the membership of the church in Hawaii. This included the significant addition of over a thousand new members from 1910 to 1915. [47] President Smith’s announcement to build a temple in Hawaii was made just over three months after returning home from that momentous visit. His experiences from his 1915 trip to Hawaii were crucial in his determination to see a temple built there.

Apostle Reed Smoot, a United States senator at the time, was invited to visit the Islands as a guest of the Hawaii Legislature. Senator Smoot then asked President Smith and his wife Julina to accompany him as his guests on the trip, set for early May. [48] The Smiths’ departure was delayed due to a family illness, but along with Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley and his wife, they finally met up with the Smoots upon their May 21 arrival. [49]

The vacation was filled with the typical fanfare expected during the stay of a beloved prophet, especially one so highly esteemed as Joseph F. Smith. It was also filled with the anticipated ministerial duties and—as is the lot of nearly all priesthood leaders—some unanticipated ones, too. On Saturday, May 29, President Smith presided and spoke at the funeral of a faithful Hawaiian brother, and it may be that this Saint’s sudden passing was instrumental in prompting the inspiration the prophet needed to dedicate ground for the long-awaited temple in Hawaii.

Mission records reported, “Peter Kealakaihonua, an aged Hawaiian Elder, . . . died suddenly in Honolulu.” [50] Not a great deal is known about this man. He lived in Honolulu for many years with perhaps the most prominent Latter-day Saint couple in Hawaii, Abraham and Minerva Fernandez. [51] The fact that President Smith and Elder Smoot attended his funeral was mentioned in an article printed in the Liahona, the Church’s missionary publication of the day. The article provides the following information about “Elder Kealakaihonua.” It states that he was “one of the oldest and most respected members of the Church in the islands. He had been a member of the Church for many years and had been the means of converting a large number of the islanders.” [52] In his journal, Elder Smoot noted Peter’s unexpected passing, adding this intriguing insight: “The old man has been to Utah and received his endowments.” [53]

Available records do not indicate the extent of this event’s impact on President Smith specifically, but a later journal entry confirms that Peter’s death certainly had made an impression on Elder Smoot. Elder Smoot wrote, “After the funeral services of Peter last Saturday I told Sister Smith and Sister Nibley as we were going to the grave yard [sic] that the church ought to erect an Endowment House or Temple at Laie so the islanders could secure their endowments and do temple work for the living and the dead.” [54]

Elder Smoot made this timely comment just three days before, as one biographer put it, “an ecclesiastical event of historic significance.” [55] On the well-documented evening of Tuesday, June 1, 1915, President Smith requested that Bishop Nibley and Elder Smoot accompany him on a walk. They strolled through their beautiful surroundings about four hundred yards up a small hill to the chapel called I Hemolele, which in Hawaiian suitably means “Holiness to the Lord.” According to President Smith, the men then “had some conversation on the subject of recommending that a small temple or endowment house be erected [there] at Laie.” [56]

In his account of the evening’s events, Elder Smoot adds several noteworthy details: “President Smith said [Bishop] Nibley had suggested to him that as the Mission was in a financial condition that [if] it could build a small Endowment House or Temple it should do so.” According to Elder Smoot, Nibley also suggested that the temple be built on that very spot where the chapel stood, which would necessitate moving the I Hemolele meeting house. President Smith then stated, “If that met with approval of all three of us he felt impressed to consecrate and dedicate the ground for that purpose.” [57]

In a later telling of the experience, Elder Smoot included this description of President Smith’s pre-dedicatory words: “I feel impressed to dedicate this ground for the erection of a temple to God, for a place where the peoples of the Pacific Isles can come and do their temple work. I have not presented this to the Council of the Twelve or to my counselors; but if you think there would be no objection to it, I think now is the time to dedicate the ground.” [58]

Elder Smoot is clear that the notion “met with [his] hearty approval.” While recording the evening’s events in his journal, he added his conviction that the event was “the first step towards the erection of a small temple here in Laie wherein the Hawaiian Saints as well as the saints of other Islands of the Pacific can have their temple ordinations, sealings, baptisms, etc attended to.” Then, as if to acknowledge the magnitude of this milestone, Elder Smoot proclaimed, “This can be considered a blessed day for members of the church living on the islands of the Pacific.” [59]

There is no question as to the significance of the step taken on that “blessed day.” Elder Smoot’s records supply rich contextual information about the circumstances surrounding this monumental event, especially the connection and timing of the funeral just a few days prior to the dedication of the temple site. Peter’s death was noteworthy enough to have been reported in a newspaper article on the mainland that highlighted President Smith’s trip to Hawaii. Was his passing poignant enough to cause the prophet to reflect upon the state of those Hawaiians who, unlike Peter, had not had the opportunity to go to the temple in Utah?

Regardless of the impetus of the inspiration, the important fact remains: Joseph F. Smith, in his role as the prophet of God, dedicated the ground in Laie, Hawaii for the building of a house of the Lord. Thus, the evening of Tuesday, June 1, 1915, marked the dawning of a new era of temple construction and expansion in Church history—it would be the first temple outside of North America.

Temple Built in Hawaii

Following the dedicatory prayer, Elder Smoot noted that “the very ground seemed to be sacred.” [60] The trio then returned to the mission home, and each of them spoke to a group of Saints gathered there. While nothing was mentioned regarding the sacred experience they had just come from, President Smith makes it clear that at some point that day they “talked the matter over with President S. E. Woolley,” the president of the Hawaiian Mission. [61]

President Smith and President Woolley continued regular correspondence in connection to the progress of the temple. At the end of a letter written to Woolley soon after his return home, Joseph F. Smith included a status update following the heading “Private” (emphasis in original). The news read, “The matter of building a sacred place at Laie was presented to the Council last Thursday, at our first meeting, and was joyfully accepted and approved by all present. While it is not time to make it public, I will soon give you further information as the first steps which will be taken.” [62] A few months later President Smith apprised President Woolley further, saying, “We expect to make public announcement of the Sacred building . . . during our October conference. In the meantime it will not be necessary to make any positive declarations of it to the public.” [63]

Following its announcement in October 1915, mission records state that “Work commenced for the erection of the new Temple” on January 12, 1916. The first major undertaking was moving the meeting–house from the temple site. Relocating the hundred-ton chapel “was quite a task” and took an entire month.

The frequent correspondence Joseph F. maintained with Hawaiian Mission president Samuel E. Woolley was one sign of the prophet’s keen interest in the temple. His interest was demonstrated more overtly, however, by his efforts to monitor its progress personally. Twice he made trips to Hawaii to oversee work on the temple.

President Smith arrived for his first visit on March 1, 1916, the day the chapel was installed in its new location. That very day, “a special meeting, was held at Laie,” over which President Smith presided. During the meeting “the proposition was discussed as to the advisability of entering into a contract with the Spaulding [sic] Construction Company of Honolulu to build the L.D.S. Temple at Laie.” At length a resolution was unanimously passed to contract with Walter Spalding, after which the prophet said, “I am mighty well pleased with this arrangement, for I must admit that it has been somewhat of a worry to me, but now I feel perfectly easy about the matter. I feel that my trip has been a success now.” [64]

While plans were being solidified for the temple in Hawaii, construction on the temple in Alberta, Canada, was already under way. Pleased with the plans and progress of the temple in Canada, President Smith turned again to the temple’s architects, Hyrum C. Pope and Harold Burton, to prepare plans for the new temple in Laie. They were directed to continue with a similar design, only smaller.

The Hawaiian Temple was significant to the Church, but it was especially so to President Joseph F. Smith. He was intimately involved in the details of its construction—even to the point of ordering the correction of the color schemes in a mural’s water scene. [65] His concern and desire to ensure that the project was progressing brought him again to the temple site a year later in May of 1917. His biographer, Francis Gibbons, reflected President Smith’s feelings: “The day after reaching Oahu, Joseph made his way to Laie and immediately delved into the matter that was uppermost in his thoughts: ‘We visited the temple & found the workmen all around.’” [66]

Plans originally called for the completion and dedication of the temple by the first of June 1917. [67] As work on the temple advanced, however, it became clear that the temple would not be ready. Gibbons underscored the prophet’s anxious desire for the temple’s completion when he wrote, “a combined sense of urgency and irritation may be inferred from [Joseph’s] entry of the fourteenth [of May]: ‘Visited the temple this morning. Workmen still busy and to all human appearance the finish is by no means nearby.’” [68]

The thinly-veiled disappointment in President Smith’s progress report is evidence of his excitement for the temple’s dedication. From a later entry, however, there is an indication that a portion of his frustration may have been caused by his fear that he may not have lived to see its completion. At the conclusion of his 1917 trip, while en route to the mainland, Joseph F. pensively reminisced in this telling journal entry: “We boarded the ship and bid good by [sic] to our friends and Honolulu, perhaps for the last time.”. [69]

Sadly, the prophet’s entry turned out to be prophetic, and a dedication of the temple by President Smith was not to be. With the exception of landscaping, construction on the temple itself was completed on April 18, 1918. The worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918, however, reached the United States and Hawaii by summertime, causing the dedication to be postponed. [70] That summer and fall found Joseph F. Smith battling his own illnesses until he finally succumbed to a bout of pleurisy that developed into pleuropneumonia. He passed away Tuesday morning, November 19, 1918. [71]

“Great regret [was] felt by the Hawaiian people that their dearly beloved leader, the late President Joseph F. Smith, [would] not be with them at dedication time.” Reported reaction to the news of President Smith’s passing continued as follows: “During his three missions to the islands he became loved and reverenced by all. His honest, gentle, fearless and sympathetic character drew the confidence, respect and boundless love of this naturally trusting people.” [72]

The mission history for that fateful day records, “The sad news of the death of President Joseph F. Smith reached Laie, which sent a gloom over mission headquarters. The schools were closed half a day and the flag set at half mast in honor of the beloved president.” Though deeply saddened, the Hawaiian Saints still had much to look forward to. The dedication of the sacred structure that would forever stand as a token of President Smith’s undying aloha for the Hawaiian Saints approached.

The new prophet, President Heber J. Grant, was also compelled to delay the dedication until the ongoing “Spanish flu” pandemic subsided. Harold Burton, one of the temple’s architects, later recalled that the dedication was also delayed “owing to the First World War.” [73] In the meantime, labor continued on the landscape architecture, and all was said to be completely finished by July 15, 1919. [74] With the dedication of the temple imminent, the temple needed to be prepared for public display. This was done, and for more than two months before its dedication “the Laie Temple [was] opened to visitors, and many had visited the Temple.” [75] At last, on Thursday, November 13, 1919, a telegram arrived in Hawaii with word that the temple dedication was set for the end of that month. [76]

Although Joseph F. Smith did not live to see the temple in Hawaii completed, his memory lived on in the dedication services. Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley was one of Joseph F. Smith’s dearest friends and spoke in one of the dedicatory sessions. Nibley was with President Smith when he dedicated the temple site, and his first remarks referenced that special occasion. President Clawson recorded, “With deep emotion [Bishop Nibley] expressed his sorrow that President Smith had not lived to attend [the] dedication but reminded the Saints that the authority which he held was still [there] and . . . [rested] upon President Grant.”

When it was President Heber J. Grant’s opportunity to offer his concluding remarks, a major portion of his words were centered on his late predecessor. He “expressed a keen regret that President Joseph F. Smith had not lived to come here and dedicate this temple.” It seems as though President Smith’s earthly absence from this singular event had a powerful effect on President Grant. An associate claimed that President Grant later confided in him that “going to Hawaii to dedicate the Temple was the saddest assignment of his life. He knew how President Smith would have enjoyed being there to dedicate the Temple.” [77] Nevertheless, on November 27, 1919, President Grant presided over the dedication of the temple in Laie, Hawaii, the Church’s fifth operating temple. [78]

A Shift in Gathering and Temple Building

The establishment and building up of Laie and the construction and dedication of a temple there marked the genesis of a shift in gathering and temple building for the Church. This temple, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, became the first realization of the long-foreseen direction of the gathering of scattered Israel and a foreshadowing of the future of building Zion in the dispensation of the fullness of times.

Joseph F. Smith long recognized the Church’s need for temples in distant areas of the world. While serving as the Second Counselor to Church President Lorenzo Snow in 1901, he said, “I foresee the necessity arising for other temples or other places consecrated to the Lord for the performance of the ordinances of God’s house, so that the people may have the benefit of the House of the Lord without having to travel hundreds of miles for that purpose.” [79]

President Smith not only saw the need for such temples, but on several occasions he prophesied that someday there would be multiple temples built in many diverse countries throughout the world. [80] The Laie Hawaii Temple was the first temple dedicated in one of the missions of the Church. It was also the first to begin to fulfill Joseph F. Smith’s prophecies. It is unlikely that nearly twenty years before its existence, President Smith would have known that a temple in Hawaii would hold this distinction in Church history. Nor would he likely have dreamed he would play such a vital role in the realization of this temple that was so personally significant to him.

The Latter-day Saint temple in Laie, Oahu, Hawaii, became the first temple “away from the traditional centers of Mormon colonization in Utah.” [81] This is significant because with the temple came the introduction of Laie as an early prototype for the method of gathering, which did not appear to begin taking hold Church wide until the mid-twentieth century.

In a 1972 area conference in Mexico City, Elder Bruce R. McConkie clearly identified this new chapter in the gathering saga when he declared that “the place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; the place of gathering for the Guatemalan Saints is in Guatemala; . . . and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. . . . Every nation is the gathering place for its own people.” [82] At the general conference the following October, the President of the Church, Harold B. Lee, referred to and endorsed Elder McConkie’s significant statement. [83] In 1992, Elder Boyd K. Packer referred to President Lee’s quoting Elder McConkie and declared that, “in effect, [this] announced that the pioneering phase of gathering was now over. The gathering is now to be out of the world into the Church in every nation.” [84] Nowhere is this mid-twentieth-century shift in the Latter-day Saint conception of “gathering” more evident than in recent temple expansion.

Near the end of the Hawaiian Temple’s first year in operation, Elder Reed Smoot looked back at the foundational events of this magnificent structure, of which he was a part. He then looked forward, prophesying, “Temple building, temple work, salvation for our dead and salvation for ourselves have just begun. . . . I look to see the time when temples will be erected in all parts of the world.” [85]

Latter-day Saints today are witnessing the fruition of Elder Smoot’s vision. Presently, the Church has one hundred and forty operating temples with several in every inhabited continent of the world, and another twenty-eight under construction or announced. [86] President Thomas S. Monson illustrated the vastness of this expansion in the April 2011 general conference by pointing out that “eighty-five percent of the membership of the Church now live within 200 miles (320 km) of a temple, and for a great many of us, that distance is much shorter.” [87]

Fortuitously, in the same talk, President Monson recognized a man whose foresight and efforts have proved to be instrumental in our prolific modern temple program. “During the October general conference in 1902,” he said, “Church President Joseph F. Smith expressed in his opening address the hope that one day we would ‘have temples built in the various parts of the [world] where they are needed for the convenience of the people.’” After detailing further examples of the swiftness at which this work is progressing, President Monson vowed, “These numbers will continue to grow.” He then continued, “The goal President Joseph F. Smith hoped for in 1902 is becoming a reality. Our desire is to make the temple as accessible as possible to our members.”

Joseph F. Smith and the Laie Hawaii Temple

According to President Smith, “not many years” before the announcement of the Hawaiian Temple, the Brethren wanted to build a temple in Northern Mexico, but it could not be done. [88] The temple in Alberta, Canada, was already under construction in October 1915, but would take nearly a decade to complete. And so, as destiny would have it and as history would record it, the Laie Hawaii Temple became the fifth temple completed after the Saints settled in the Rocky Mountains. In addition, this significant structure was the first temple built in one of the missions of the Church, and the first temple dedicated outside of Utah and the continental United States.

We do not know what the Church would look like today if not for the leadership of its forward-thinking sixth President with his compelling life experience. In considering this, however, one thing may be safely suggested: without Joseph F. Smith there would be no Laie Hawaii Temple—at least not as we know it.

Just as it seems Joseph F. Smith’s life was destined to intertwine with Hawaii and the Saints who lived there, so it seems the temple in Laie was destined to play its singular role in Church history as the forebear of the modern temple building movement. This temple is a premier pioneering example of the Church’s current focus of bringing temples to the people by spreading the gospel and gathering and strengthening the believers in preparation for a temple. In short, the Laie Hawaii Temple is the culmination of a prophetic prototype for building Zion in a new era of Church history.

Thus, when considering this impressive monument to the dedication and faith of the Hawaiian Saints, it feels appropriate to acknowledge the contributions of the missionary and prophet they so deeply loved. How fitting indeed it was when, in November of 2011, in the temple’s most recent rededicatory prayer, President Monson expressed gratitude “for the insight and inspiration of President Smith, . . . who served faithfully and tirelessly so that a House of the Lord could be built here.” [89]


[1] Words of Joseph Smith ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 212; original spelling preserved.

[2] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 420.

[3] Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth, 1st ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 120.

[4] Elder Reed Smoot, in Conference Report, October 1920, 137.

[5] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, 12th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1919), 43.

[6] Scott Kenney, “Joseph F. Smith,” in The Presidents of the Church, ed. Leonard J. Arrington (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book), 186.

[7] Joseph F. Smith, journal, Sunday, Jan 24, 1864, from Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. Richard E. Truly Jr., 2 vols., DVD (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2002)

[8] Heber J. Grant, “Inspiration and Integrity of the Prophets,” Improvement Era, August 1919, 848.

[9] President Lorenzo Snow died on Thursday, October 10, 1901. His Second Counselor, Joseph F. Smith, was set apart as the sixth President of the Church on Thursday, October 17. He was later sustained as the prophet and President of the Church at a special conference held on Sunday, November 10, 1901.

[10] A more recent article on the efforts to gather the Hawaiian Saints on the island of Lanai is Fred E. Woods, “The Palawai Pioneers on the Island of Lanai: The First Hawaiian Latter-day Saint Gathering Place (1854–1864),” Mormon Historical Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 3–35. R. Lanier Britsch wrote “The Lanai Colony: A Hawaiian Extension of the Mormon Colonial Idea,” Hawaiian Journal of History 12 (1978): 68–83. He also has sections dedicated to Lanai in his books Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986), and in Moramona: The Mormons in Hawaii (Laie, HI: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1989). Raymond Clyde Beck, “Palawai Basin: Hawaii’s Mormon Zion,” (master’s thesis, University of Hawaii, 1972) is the most comprehensive work on the subject.

[11] “In 1858, in consequence of disturbed conditions in Utah, the missionaries on Hawaii were called home by Pres. Brigham Young and the mission was left in charge of native Elders.” Andrew Jenson, “Hawaiian Mission,” in Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1941), 324.

[12] Britsch, Moramona, 53.

[13] William W. Cluff, My Last Mission to the Sandwich Islands, ed. George Q. Cannon (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 61.

[14] Walter Murray Gibson, diary, November 5, 1861 and January 31, 1862, as cited in Moromona, 54–55.

[15] Cluff, My Last Mission, 62.

[16] Britsch, “The Lanai Colony,” 80. Britsch also gives an exhaustive list of the most frequently cited book, articles, and theses on Gibson’s Mormon years in Moromona, 217.

[17] Cluff, My Last Mission, 63. See also B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1965), 5:99–100.

[18] William W. Cluff, “Acts of Special Providence in Missionary Experience,” Improvement Era, March 1899.

[19] Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, October 1–4, 1864, comp. Andrew Jenson, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, Salt Lake City; hereafter CHL. See also Britsch, Moramona, 61–62.

[20] Britsch, Moramona, 61–62.

[21] Joseph F. Smith to Brigham Young, July 5, 1864, correspondence, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, as quoted in Britsch, Moramona, 61–62.

[22] Britsch, Moramona, 63. See also Cluff, My Last Mission, 74–75.

[23] Cluff, “Acts of Special Providence in Missionary Experience.” See also Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), 79; Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 224; R. Lanier Britsch, Moramona 61–63; and Riley M. Moffat, Fred E. Woods, and Jeffrey N. Walker, Gathering to Laie (Laie, HI: The Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Island Studies, 2011), 23–24.

[24] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 262. See also Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 136.

[25] The author derived the figure of seventeen children from Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 487–90.

[26] R. Lanier Britsch reports the following benefits of President Smith’s leadership in Laie: “He regularly taught the missionaries and their president concerning the organization of the Church and correct procedures. He encouraged better record keeping and stricter attention to statistical matters. His ability to use the Hawaiian language had diminished little since his last mission in 1864. He frequently spoke in Sunday meetings and also in every conference session while in the islands.” Moramona, 100–101.

[27] Manuscript History of the Laie Ward, Oahu Stake, Wednesday, September 30, 1885, CHL.

[28] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 279.

[29] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 279. See also Russell T. Clement, “Apostle in Exile: Joseph F. Smith’s Mission to Hawaii, 1885–1887” (Mormon Pacific Historical Society Proceedings, 1986), 57.

[30] Clement, “Apostle in Exile,” 57. Wesley Smith’s first mission was from 1907 to 1910. He served as mission president from 1919 to 1922 and again from 1947 to 1950. He died in 1970.

[31] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 286. See also Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 154–55.

[32] Moffat, Woods and Walker, Gathering to Laie, 47.

[33] The St. George Temple was dedicated in April 1877. It was the first temple in operation after the forced abandonment of the Nauvoo Temple. Prior to its completion, members generally received temple ordinances in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. The Endowment House functioned from 1855 through 1889.

[34] Richard Smyth, “Israel, Israel, God Is Calling,” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), no. 7; see also D&C 133:7–9.

[35] Fred Woods, “An Islander’s View of a Desert Kingdom: Jonathan Napela Recounts His 1869 Visit to Salt Lake City,” BYU Studies 45, no. 1 (2006): 28–29.

[36] Castle Murphy to Hawaiian Temple Jubilee, November 14, 1969, Castle H. Murphy papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Castle Murphy and his wife, Verna, were missionaries in Hawaii for ten years before the temple was dedicated (from 1909 to 1913). They returned less than twenty years later, and from 1930 to 1936, the Murphys served as president and matron of both the Hawaiian Mission and the Hawaiian Temple. They would return in 1938 for another stint as temple president and matron. In January 1944, they were called back a fourth time to preside over the Hawaiian and Central Pacific Missions. By June of that year, they were assigned to again oversee the Laie Hawaii Temple. The Murphys were released from their final mission in May 1947. Jeffrey S. Hardy, Digital Collections, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, 2012.

[37] Britsch, Mormona, 123. The most recent and thorough study on Iosepa is James Matt Kester, “Remembering Iosepa: History, Place, and Religion in the American West” (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2008). An earlier, more general, and less technical work on Iosepa is found in Dennis Atkin, “A History of Iosepa, the Utah Polynesian Colony” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1958).

[38] Britsch, Mormona, 124.

[39] Britsch, Mormona, 123.

[40] Moffat, Gathering to Laie, 49.

[41] Britsch, Mormona, 122–26, 135. See also Moffat, Gathering to Laie, 48–50, and Richard H. Jackson and Mark W. Jackson, “Iosepa: The Hawaiian Experience in Settling the Mormon West,” Utah Historical Quarterly 76, no. 4 (2008): 334.

[42] Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, October 1915, 9.

[43] Jackson, “Iosepa: The Hawaiian Experience in Settling the Mormon West,” 330–33.

See also Britsch, Mormona, 123; Comfort Margaret Bock, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Hawaiian Islands” (master’s thesis, University of Hawaii, 1941), 77.

[44] Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 198.

[45] Joseph Fielding Smith noted, “Four times [President Smith] made trips to the Hawaiian Islands, in March, 1909, May, 1915, February, 1916, and the last time in May, 1917. It was while on his visit in 1915, that he selected and dedicated a site for a Temple at Laie.” Life of Joseph F. Smith, 421.

[46] “Far Away Hawaii,” Millennial Star, July 8, 1915.

[47] Britsch, Moramona, 120.

[48] Reed Smoot to Joseph F. Smith, March 15, 1915, Church History Library, hereafter CHL.

[49] Harvard S. Heath, ed., In the World: The Diaries of Reed Smoot (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 268.

[50] Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, May 27, 1915. In the manuscript history, Peter’s last name is spelled Kealakaihomua. The spelling used by the author was decided on by consulting several other sources.

[51] Reed Smoot, diary, May 27, 1915, Reed Smoot Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections.

[52] “President Smith and Party Return,” Liahona, July 6, 1915.

[53] Smoot, diary, May 27, 1915.

[54] Smoot, diary, June 1, 1915.

[55] Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 310.

[56] Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 310.

[57] Heath, In the World: The Diaries of Reed Smoot, 273.

[58] Reed Smoot, in Conference Report, October 1920, 137.

[59] Heath, In the World: The Diaries of Reed Smoot, 273.

[60] Reed Smoot, in Conference Report, October 1920, 137.

[61] See Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, October 3, 1915.

[62] Joseph F. Smith to Samuel Woolley, June 23, 1915.

[63] Joseph F. Smith to Samuel Woolley, August 17, 1915.

[64] Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, January 12; February 1; March 1, 1916. This reference to Walter Spalding and his construction company in the mission history is significant. It is important because in the majority of existing literature Ralph Woolley is given sole credit for the building of the temple in Hawaii. In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 that a recorded interview of Walter Spalding was discovered, fully examined and reported on by a professor at BYU–Hawaii. Dr. Riley Moffat prepared a paper for the Mormon Pacific Historical Society titled “The Spalding Construction Company and the Building of the Laie Temple.” Moffat’s contribution constitutes the most comprehensive understanding of the subject to date. As a result of its late exposure, unfortunately, Walter T. Spalding and his company, the Spalding Construction Company, are rarely acknowledged in available literature for their role in constructing the temple. See Riley M. Moffat, “The Spalding Construction Company and the Building of the Laie Temple” In Mormon Pacific Historical Society 32 (2011).

[65] Zipporah L. Stewart, Hawaiian Temple, 3, CHL. See also Lewis A. Ramsey correspondence, May 7, 1917, CHL; and Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 320.

[66] Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 320.

[67] Ramsey, entries for January 10, 13, and March 5, 1917. See also Liahona, May 30, 1916, vol. 13:778 (Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, April 9, 1916).

[68] Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 320; emphasis in original.

[69] Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, 320.

[70] Moffat, Gathering to Laie, 116–118.

[71] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 475, 479.

[72] Edwin S. Bliss, “Hawaiians Prepare to Entertain Prest. Grant,” Deseret News, November 11, 1919.

[73] N. B. Lundwall, ed. Temples of the Most High, 16th ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1940), 151.

[74] Rudger Clawson, “The Hawaiian Temple,” Millennial Star, November 1919.

[75] Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, November 5, 1919.

[76] Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, November 13, 1919.

[77] Castle Murphy letter for Hawaiian Temple Jubilee, November 14, 1969, Castle H. Murphy Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections.

[78] Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission, Wednesday, November 5; Thursday, November 13; and Thursday, November 27, 1918.

[79] Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1901, 69; as cited in Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth, 119–20.

[80] In 1955, President David O. McKay reported that Joseph F. Smith had “prophesied forty-nine years ago in the city of Bern that “temples would be built in divers [sic] countries of the world” (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, October 1959, 35). Over a span of fifty years several general authorities of the Church referenced prophecies Joseph F. Smith had made regarding a coming day when there would be multiple temples. A majority of the prophecies pertained specifically to Europe being “dotted with temples.” Serge F. Ballif, in Conference Report, October 1920, 9. The following addresses (listed in order by date) contain similar accounts of predictions made by Joseph F. Smith: Charles W. Nibley, in Conference Report, October 1924, 97; LeGrand Richards, in Conference Report, April 1944, 44; Charles A. Callis, in Conference Report, October 1945, 82; Clifford E. Young, in Conference Report, October 1955, 126; LeGrand Richards, in Conference Report, October 1959, 35; LeGrand Richards, in Conference Report, October 1970, 62.

[81] Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth, 120.

[82] Bruce R. McConkie, Mexico and Central America Area Conference, August 26, 1972, 45.

[83] Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, April 1973, 7.

[84] Boyd K. Packer, “‘To Be Learned Is Good If . . . ’” Ensign, November 1992, 71.

[85] Reed Smoot, in Conference Report, October 1920, 137.

[86] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Temple Statistics”;

[87] Thomas S. Monson, “The Holy Temple—A Beacon to the World,” Ensign, May 2011, 90–91.

[88] Joseph F. Smith., in Conference Report, October 1915, 9.

[89] “Laie Hawaii Temple Rededicatory Prayer,” Church News, November 27, 2010, 6.