Training Teachers and Learning to Lead

Church Higher Education and the Establishment of the Church College of Hawaii, 1957-1961

J. Gordon Daines III

J. Gordon Daines III, "Training Teachers and Learning to Lead: Church Higher Education and the Establishment of the Church College of Hawaii, 1957-1961," Religious Educator 24, no. 1 (2023): 122–145.

J. Gordon Daines III ( is the curator of research and instruction services and the curator of the Yellowstone National Park collection in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University.

Photo of BYU Hawaii campusEducation is at the core of Latter-day Saint theology. Photo by Monique Saenz. Courtesy of BYU-Hawaii.

In early 1921 Elder David O. McKay, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, embarked on a world tour of the foreign missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to ascertain the educational needs of the Church. One of his stops in early February was in Hawaii, where he asked local Church leaders what they thought the greatest need of the Hawaiian Mission was. These leaders replied that a Church school was the biggest need. Samuel H. Hurst, a missionary, recorded in his diary that Elder McKay indicated to these leaders that “he would write a letter to the First Presidency recommending that one be built.”[1] Nearly thirty years later McKay presided at the groundbreaking for the Church College of Hawaii (CCH). In the interim Church leaders had worked with Presidents Franklin S. Harris and Howard S. McDonald to take concrete steps at their flagship educational institution in Provo to ensure that it successfully created a space where secular and sacred education could be intermingled in a higher education environment that had become increasingly secular.[2]

This study describes the founding of CCH, giving attention to how the Church’s deep involvement with education, particularly at BYU, provided a framework for creating a new institution of higher education aimed at providing members in the Pacific region of the world with access to educational opportunities enriched by the sacred. Another focus is how this framework and its related structures were implemented in furtherance of the founders’ goal of establishing a school that successfully intermingled the sacred and the secular. It will be seen how the framework allowed the varied cultural backgrounds of the student body to influence the development of CCH’s campus culture. The college would develop within this framework and over many years become the unique institution it is today.

Setting the Stage: Higher Education and the Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints made its initial foray into higher education with the passage of the city charter of Nauvoo in 1840, which “wrapped three state charters into one—a city, a militia, and a university.” [3] The proposed university, which drew heavily on a Protestant educational tradition that aimed to blend secular learning with the teachings of Christianity,[4] also had a clear focus on teacher education.[5] The martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844 and the subsequent repeal of the Nauvoo charter in 1845 abruptly ended the Church’s first venture into higher education.

The Saints’ expulsion from Illinois and the exigencies of creating a new community in the arid Great Basin prevented further efforts to establish a Church university until 1850, when the University of Deseret was incorporated. The school suspended its operations in 1852 because of financial difficulties. The Commercial Department (business school) of the university reopened in 1868, and the rest of the university followed suit in 1869 under the direction of John R. Park.[6]

The revival of the University of Deseret came in the middle of serious discussions about the place of religion in the public square. Non–Latter-day Saints were particularly bothered by the intermixing of religion and education in territorial schools. Utah education quickly became a battleground as each group sought to control the educational curriculum.[7] Brigham Young and other Church leaders feared that control of the educational curriculum would eventually pass from their hands.[8] Their fears were prescient. By 1869 there had “developed a widespread demand for the establishment and maintenance on a broad and generous base of a public institution of higher education.”[9] Many saw the University of Deseret as needing to fill this role. University president John R. Park agreed and worked to build a full-fledged university modeled on eastern institutions with which he was familiar. Park’s efforts led to the secularization of the university and “provoked the Church to establish its own system of higher education.”[10]

Secularization of the public education system concerned President Brigham Young, and he began looking for new ways to accomplish his educational vision. This included creating his own school system.[11] In 1875 Young opened Brigham Young Academy, which initially focused on primary and secondary education as a response to the secularization of the common schools. Young had a specific vision for the new school. The deed of trust specified that members in good standing in the Church or their children would be able to attend the school. It also specified a curriculum that offered both religious and secular instruction.[12]

Brigham Young’s vision for the school extended beyond the integration of religious and secular studies, as important as that was. He wanted a teaching staff that believed that Brigham Young Academy could provide teachers for the network of academies he hoped to develop. This emphasis on teacher training grew over the next quarter century as the Church built a network of twenty-two high school–level academies that all needed teachers.[13] While the majority of these academies focused on elementary and secondary education, a few (including Brigham Young Academy) offered collegiate courses. Brigham Young Academy began offering collegiate courses in 1892 under Benjamin Cluff Jr.[14] By 1903 the leadership of Brigham Young Academy felt the school offered sufficient college-level courses to merit a name change. Cluff proposed that the academy become Brigham Young University and that it focus its collegiate activities on teacher training.[15] In 1909 the General Church Board of Education acknowledged the efforts of BYU in teacher training by announcing “that the Church Teacher’s College be established at the Brigham Young University.”[16]

Nearly a decade later the Church began a review of its educational network. This review focused on the cost of running it and on BYU as a leading cost driver. Franklin S. Harris, newly appointed president, recognized that the university’s mission needed to be expanded beyond teacher training to solidify its place in the Church’s educational network. On his first visit to campus in April 1921, Harris explained that the university mission needed to be expanded to include producing leaders.[17] He successfully convinced Church leadership that a university dedicated to integrating religious and secular studies, training teachers, and developing leaders had an important role to play in the Church’s educational network.[18]

Church leaders also took important steps during Harris’s administration to ensure that BYU remained tightly connected to the Church. Their actions fit a model elaborated decades later by Robert Benne, a professor of religion at Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia. Benne argued that the core of the connection between a religious tradition and its institution of higher education was a clearly articulated vision and mission that linked the two together. He also posited that a strong culture (or ethos) rooted in the commitment of the governance board, faculty, and student body to the founding religious tradition was another key.[19]

Church leaders moved to ensure that the university’s board of trustees would represent their vision for the university by deciding to have the highest leaders of the Church sit on that board.[20] When Harris stepped down as university president in 1945, Church leaders selected Howard S. McDonald as the new university president because they believed that his background as a stake president “could bring a strong religious emphasis to the school.”[21] They charged him with making the university spiritually strengthening and academically sound. Toward this end, they supported his efforts to ensure that the students and faculty who came to Brigham Young University were a good fit both religiously and academically. Moreover, they encouraged him to develop a strong campus culture that emphasized the integration of the sacred and the secular.[22]

The relationship between the Church and BYU highlights the importance of tightly interconnecting the elements described by Benne into a coherent framework. Church and university leadership clearly articulated BYU’s vision and mission and its relationship with the Church. They hired faculty and staff willing to help the university accomplish its mission and admitted students vested in it. Moreover, they created an ethos that strengthened the commitment of the campus community to BYU’s mission while also taking concrete steps to tie BYU to its sponsoring religious organization and actively working to maintain those connections.[23]

The actions taken by Harris, McDonald, and Church leadership to solidify BYU’s place in the Church’s educational network would find additional relevance in the 1950s with the establishment of CCH. The flexible framework developed at BYU for marrying academic and religious priorities would foster a campus culture at the sister institution in Hawaii respectful of the Polynesian heritage of many of its early students.

Church College of Hawaii

Church leaders overseeing the development of BYU’s unique culture had gained a keen understanding of the role that the Church’s universities could play in developing teachers and leaders for the Church. They had also developed strategies for ensuring the Church’s close relationship with its institutions of higher education. These lessons are reflected in the steps taken by Church leaders in founding the Church College of Hawaii. Again, the Benne model helps clarify those steps: vision and mission, leaders supportive of that direction, and a campus culture that valued close relations between the Church and the campus community. That last focus involved drawing on the Polynesian culture of many of the students. Discussed below, these efforts all served the primary focus of creating an institution that intermingled the sacred and the secular in meaningful ways, such as ultimately producing capable teachers and leaders for the Pacific area.

Laying the Groundwork

CCH has its roots in an experience of Elder David O. McKay during his 1921 world tour. As part of his February visit to Hawaii, McKay participated in a flag-raising ceremony at a school in Laie. This event prompted a vision whereby he knew that “in the future a college should be established in that area to serve not only Hawaii but also the entire area of the South Seas in providing higher education in a religious, spiritual setting.”[24] This vision would not begin to be realized for another thirty years.

In 1949 President Ralph E. Woolley of the Oahu Stake presidency, following the “encouragement of President McKay and the late Apostle Matthew Cowley,”[25] appointed a special committee to study the establishment of a Church school in Hawaii. The committee was composed of four members of the Oahu Stake high council: Clinton Kanahele was appointed as chairman with J. Frank Woolley, Lawrence Peterson, and George O. Zabriskie as committee members.[26] The committee held a public meeting and invited feedback from local Church leaders. The meeting was well attended by local Church leaders and interested members. The minutes note that “all of the six wards and three branches represented favored a Church school in principle, but varied as to method of establishment, possible locations, and the grades to be established.”[27]

The committee carefully considered the feedback received from the local Church leaders and members and prepared a report for the stake presidency. The report found that any school established by the Church would need to be of high scholastic quality to entice members to attend and that existing Church buildings were not adequate for use as school buildings. It also pointed out that building a school in Honolulu was not feasible because of the high cost of land. The committee focused on the importance of developing “a curriculum which will primarily serve the needs of the island-born members of the church.” Worried that the youth were leaving the Church for reasons owing to their attendance at other denominational schools, the committee urged that a school be established in Laie as soon as possible. Specifically, they recommended that “the First Presidency of the Church be asked to immediately establish an intermediate grade and high school level boarding school at Laie,”[28] and also that an institute of religion be established at the University of Hawaii.[29]

The following year (1950) President Woolley considered the recommendation of Hawaiian Mission president Edward L. Clissold that the old Waialee Training School be used as a “temporary location for the school.” [30] In the summer of 1951 the First Presidency of the Church sent a local Utah educator, Frank W. McGhie, to gather data to help inform their decision making. McGhie was a teacher in the Murray, Utah, seminary at the time.[31] More importantly, McGhie had lived in Hawaii and had “spent from 1944 to 1947 in charge of religious instruction of our students on a released time basis.” McGhie was specifically tasked with determining whether the Church should take over the Waialee Training School. However, after McGhie had “been there about three days investigating it, the army decided to take it over so this opportunity vanished.”[32]

In 1952 BYU dean of students Wesley P. Lloyd went to Hawaii to study proposed locations for the recommended school. He met with Clissold, Woolley, and several “leaders in religious and educational activities in the area.” Lloyd found that these leaders agreed on three points: “1. That there is critical need for the establishment of a Church school, and that the institution should begin operation not later than September, 1953. 2. That the school should include grades ten, eleven, and twelve on the Secondary level, and the first two years on the college level. 3. That the institution should be started and continued at Laie.” Lloyd endorsed the recommendations of the local leaders and reported that he believed these conclusions had been “reached as the result of careful thinking on the part of local leaders and Church members.”[33] He further recommended that the First Presidency give careful consideration to the “advisability of operating the new school as a branch of Brigham Young University” and noted that “Church officers and leaders in Hawaii have expressed a desire for such an arrangement.”[34] Lloyd concluded his letter by reviewing the curriculum that he felt the new junior college should offer. He proposed that the school have two major emphases: (1) “the vocational and educational needs of students not planning to transfer credit for the completion of a Bachelor’s degree. These students should be allowed to pursue an education program strongly weighted in vocational training with additional works in the English language and culture, and in religion”; (2) “an additional major academic emphasis should be given for students who desire to transfer to other colleges and universities for purposes of completing their degrees. For these, a standard Junior College offering in the liberal arts and sciences should be given. This should be supplemented by an appropriate emphasis in religious education.”[35] Church leadership carefully considered these recommendations, and many of them were followed when CCH was officially founded two years following his report.

Church leaders announced on July 21, 1954, that a college would be established in Hawaii. They also announced that Dr. Reuben D. Law, dean of the College of Education at BYU, would be the new president. He and Kenneth Bennion, director of the LDS Business College, and Clarence Cottam, dean of the College of Biological and Agricultural Sciences at BYU, were tasked to “make a preview study of buildings necessary and the establishment of the school.”[36] In early 1955 it was announced that the school would be on Church land in Laie. Laie was selected because the Church already owned the land and, with the temple was located there, it had “a spiritual atmosphere meaning much to the Polynesian people.”[37]

With the decision to establish the Church College of Hawaii, Church leaders turned their attention to ensuring that the new institution would successfully combine the sacred and the secular. They articulated a clear vision for the school, selected college leadership that would create a mission statement aligned with that vision, and worked to ensure that the governance board of the school would always support their vision. Along with that all-important foundation, they put in place structures to foster a vibrant campus culture by strengthening the spirituality of the student body and leveraging their unique cultural backgrounds. A teacher-training program was added as well, becoming a key component of the school’s mission of producing leaders for the Pacific region.


At the groundbreaking services in February 1955, President David O. McKay provided a clear vision for the new school. CCH would be “the center of the education of the people of these islands”[38] with the primary purpose of teaching students about “the things pertaining to God and his kingdom.”[39] McKay’s vision for the new institution clearly linked the sacred and the secular. He also harked back to Franklin S. Harris’s refinement of BYU’s vision by adding, in reference to the students, “More than that, they will be leaders. Not leaders only on this island, but everywhere.”[40]

Reuben D. Law also spoke at the groundbreaking and highlighted the role of the sacred at the new institution: “We must have an institution that deals not only with the various phases of learning but also with the great ideals and principles of the gospel. This institution must always emphasize these great principles and truths in our program of education.”[41]

Three years later Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles spoke at the dedication of the college and elaborated on the vision regarding education in the Church: “The peculiar educational function of the church, even in the schools, does not lie in the area of secular education. It lies in the field of religious education. The church mission is now as it always has been to teach the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The objective of church education, therefore, is to teach the truth, all the truth, in the light of the Restored Gospel.”[42]

The importance of vision in guiding CCH and its successor, BYU–Hawaii, is emphasized in the latter’s course catalog:


Brigham Young University–Hawaii, founded by prophets and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, exists to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life and in their efforts to influence the establishment of peace internationally. We seek to accomplish this by:

  1. Educating the minds and spirits of students within an intercultural, gospel-centered environment and curriculum that increases faith in God and the restored gospel, is intellectually enlarging, is character building, and leads to a life of learning and service.
  2. Preparing men and women with the intercultural and leadership skills necessary to promote world peace and international brotherhood, to address world problems, and to be a righteous influence in families, professions, civic responsibilities, social affiliations, and in the Church.
  3. Extending the blessings of learning to members of the Church, particularly in Oceania and the Asian Rim.
  4. Developing friends for the university and the Church.
  5. Maintaining a commitment to operational efficiency and continuous improvement.[43]


Leaders of the newly established college were tasked with ensuring that the mission and focus of the institution lined up with the vision established by Church leadership. The 1958–59 course catalog included a purpose statement that read, “The purposes of this institution are the high Christian purposes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the objectives of education in a democracy.”[44] A 1959 document entitled “Objectives of the Church College of Hawaii” described how college leaders saw the purpose of the new college:

Its pervading objective is to illuminate the joys which can come to man by serving the purpose of God, the essence of which is promoting the welfare of man. The College intends to enhance good will toward fellowmen and encourage respect for the benefit of man. In light of the high ideals of Christ’s teachings, the College reinforces the desires of earnest young people for the self-discipline which are essential to their fulfilling their highest hopes of becoming helpful influences among their associates and in their communities.[45]

This understanding had been codified by 1963, as seen in the following objective statement in the college’s catalog that was shared in a report sent to the accreditation committee of the Western College Association:

The Church College of Hawaii shares basic objectives with other accredited colleges. It is distinguished from many, however, by the motivation it receives from the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Its pervading purpose is to reveal the joy which can come from serving God, which is done best by serving mankind. Believing that man is served best by being freed from the many bondages which may beset him, and that it is truth which can make him free, the College seeks to inculcate respect for truth. Knowledge of vital facts and of means for finding and recognizing reality are, therefore, major aims at The Church College of Hawaii.[46]

The accreditation report further identified specific aims for each of the college’s programs:

  • to provide educational, vocational and personal guidance, which will assist the student to recognize his special aptitudes, arrive at realistic career decisions, and choose an appropriate program of college studies.
  • to educate elementary and secondary teachers for qualified service in public and Church schools in the Pacific area . . .
  • to provide training for teachers desiring the Professional (Fifth Year) Certificate
  • to provide a fully accredited baccalaureate program in some Liberal Arts and Science areas

In the mid-1960s the CCH faculty rearticulated the objectives of the institution and prioritized them. They underscored the importance of sacred education by placing the development of “Christian ideals, faith in the living God, understanding of the principles of the Restored Gospel, and personal conduct which reflects these principles” at the beginning of their list. Subordinated to the importance of the sacred were fostering self-knowledge and personal accountability; providing competent leadership in family, Church, and national and world contexts; developing the skills necessary for professional success; developing an understanding of “human societies, particularly Polynesian and Oriental societies”; fostering an appreciation for the arts and literature; promoting critical thinking; and developing effective oral and written communication.[47]

By the early 1970s, the objectives listed in the school’s course catalog had been replaced with general categories. These categories and their explanations captured the CCH mission, underscoring the continued emphasis on spiritual learning. The categories included “Experience in Righteous Living,” which aimed to “provide optimum conditions for living, learning, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ for students and staff at The Church College of Hawaii”;[48] and “Education for Reality,” which aimed to “provide optimum learning conditions designed to develop the total person capable of comprehending and using ‘the principles which the rising generation requires if it is to find its way through the maze of tomorrow,’ and capable of both spiritual and systematic, rational decision making and problem solving.”[49] Another category was “Experience in International Acculturation,” which aimed to “design and facilitate practical experiences in cross-cultural living and learning, utilizing LDS Church values as the superordinate unifying theme. Cultivate a capacity and a desire to contribute to world peace through Church, community, and professional service and leadership. Reinforce in a student the perceived possibility of returning and contributing to his own culture.”[50] The last category was “Stewardship Accountability,” which aimed to “cultivate a sense of shared responsibility for the effective use of all resources and a spirit of dedication to productive work.”[51]

By the mid-1970s the mission of the college was captured more succinctly as follows: “The main purpose of the Brigham Young University–Hawaii Campus is to help students develop academic excellence, professional/vocational competence, and Christ-like character. The University is intended to be a living laboratory where students from many nations and cultures have an opportunity to develop appreciation, tolerance, and esteem for one another.”[52] This statement was accompanied by a set of goals that mirrored those paired with earlier objectives.

A formal mission statement first appeared in the BYU–Hawaii[53] catalog in 1982: “The mission of Brigham Young University–Hawaii Campus—founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued.”[54] This statement was based on the one developed for BYU in the early 1980s. By 2022 the vision that Church leaders had articulated for BYU–Hawaii was encapsulated in the university’s formal mission statement: “The mission of Brigham Young University–Hawaii is to integrate both spiritual and secular learning and to prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.” [55] This mission statement was accompanied by guideposts to help clarify what the university would do to fulfill its mission: “Learn – Integrate spiritual and secular learning to provide a foundation for a lifetime of learning. Lead – Assist young men and young women in developing character and integrity so they can provide leadership in all aspects of their lives. Build – Provide a significant group of faithful and committed church leaders who will assist in building the kingdom, particularly in the Pacific and Asia.”[56]

College leaders aligned the mission of the new institution with the vision established for education in the Church, and their actions taken to develop a culture for the school were rooted in their understanding of that mission. The mission, like that of BYU, focused on the importance of producing teachers and leaders who were fluent in both sacred and secular education. These teachers and leaders were then to influence the communities to which they returned, whether in the Pacific region or elsewhere.

Governance Board and University Leadership

The Governance Board, established to augment leaders’ commitment to the school’s mission, had its roots in the Continuing Committee organized in November 1954. That committee was tasked with “directing and supervising the Church College of Hawaii at Laie.”[57] Committee members included Edward L. Clissold (Hawaiian Mission president), Ralph E. Woolley, D. Arthur Haycock (Oahu Stake president), George Q. Cannon, and Lawrence Haneberg. In April 1955 the committee was notified that it would be “designated as The Board of Trustees of The Church College of Hawaii.”[58] In 1956 the president of the Laie Temple, Ray E. Dillman, was added to the Board of Trustees.[59] Two years later Church leadership moved to tie all its schools in the Pacific[60] (including CCH) more closely to itself with the creation of the Pacific Board of Education. Before its creation, the Church schools in the Pacific had been “under the direction of the various missions of the Church within whose boundaries the schools were located.”[61] Members of the Pacific Board of Education were appointed by the First Presidency, and the board was “made up of well-qualified men who devote much of their time to assure the youth of the Pacific superior educational opportunities.”[62] The board was responsible for approving courses of study, confirming the appointment of faculty, defining policies, managing finances, and supervising administrative details at these schools.[63] It was “directly responsible to the First Presidency.”[64] Owen J. Cook, board secretary, explained that President McKay established the board because he “felt that there were specific problems in the Pacific area which would require a separate Board of Education for a time. He advised our Board that we would be operating as at present for 10 years.”[65]

This new reporting line ensured that Church leadership had the ability to directly influence the direction of its primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools in the Pacific. It also meant that CCH was as tightly connected to the Church as BYU was. The Board of Trustees at BYU included several members of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and all three members of the First Presidency.[66]

Church leaders chose Reuben D. Law as the new college’s first president. Coming from a leadership position at BYU, Law knew well the importance of maintaining strong ties with the Church. He had experienced the Church’s tightening of its oversight of BYU and so understood the need for the same relationship at CCH.

President David O. McKay charged Law to “always bear in mind these two things as you proceed with this college: 1. The students must be imbued with the fact and be led to feel that the most important thing in the world is the Gospel, and that observance of its principles in their lives brings happiness and joy in this life and further joy, progress and exaltation in the life hereafter; 2. The college must be fully creditable in all its instructions and activities.”[67] President Law took this charge to heart and worked to build a campus culture that facilitated religious and secular learning and reflected the cultural backgrounds of the students at the college.

Campus Culture

College leadership recruited faculty who believed in the mission of the college and were willing to abide by Church teachings. A primary goal of the admissions process was to accept students who wanted to be at the unique school and understood the importance of an education augmented by faith. Leaders established local units of the Church and implemented a weekly devotional program. With such measures in place, the new institution was poised to realize its purpose: to “become a center of intellectual and spiritual development for members of the Church and others from throughout the South Pacific and East Asia.”[68] This focus on students from the Pacific and Asia would have a significant impact on the campus culture as it developed over the ensuing decades.

The BYU practice of having General Authorities interview all prospective faculty members was codified at CCH with the creation of the Pacific Board of Education and the formalization of its policies and procedures in 1957.[69] The Pacific Board of Education policy document, titled Policy, Rules and Regulations, outlined the process for hiring personnel for the new college including faculty. A board member was expected to “screen all applicants and recommend to the First Presidency, with no commitments, all prospective appointees. The First Presidency will arrange for the interview of applicants by a member of the General Authorities, and will clear the applicants to the Board for signing of contracts.”[70] The experience of John Jensen was typical. He received a letter from Owen J. Cook, executive secretary of the Pacific Board of Education, asking Jensen to meet with him in Salt Lake City on June 13 to initiate the hiring process. CCH was considering Jensen for a position as a faculty member in chemistry. Cook asked Jensen, “Will you secure a letter of recommendation from your Bishop and your Stake President? Have them write me direct regarding your spiritual worthiness, also have the placement office at the B.Y.U. send me a transcript of your grades and your teaching credentials.”[71] Following this interview, Cook would have sent a recommendation to the First Presidency. If the First Presidency agreed with Cook’s recommendation, they would have had a General Authority interview Jensen before authorizing the board to extend him a contract. It is unclear whether or not Jensen was hired; he does not appear in the 1959–1960 course catalog as a full-time faculty member.

Church members and others recognized that CCH was affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many were proud of the fact that most faculty members were active members who held the priesthood and were temple worthy.[72] H. Roland Tietjen, the president of the Laie Temple, wrote to Richard T. Wootton, then president of the college, that he “appreciated the fine spirit the Church College faculty has brought to the temple. We are indeed blessed to have a college faculty in our community, all of whom I understand hold temple recommends and who are encouraged by the Pacific Board of Education to attend regularly.”[73] Church leaders expected faculty to set an example of “faith and devotion to the Church,”[74] and faculty were more than willing to do so. They provided students with examples of what it meant to be disciple-scholars focused on Jesus Christ. Students dedicated the 1961 Na Hao Pano yearbook to Professor Robert Laird and highlighted the combination of character and intellect that was expected of faculty at the college. They wrote, “Whether teaching in a classroom, counseling a student, or conducting a Campus Branch meeting, Brother Laird has always exemplified the type of faculty member the Church College of Hawaii is proud to have.”[75]

While college and Church leaders wanted students at CCH who valued an education enriched by faith, they were keen on providing this kind of education to Polynesian members of the Church.[76] The 1956 course catalog clearly stipulated that “students who are accepted by The Church College of Hawaii are required, regardless of religious affiliation, to maintain standards of behavior in harmony with those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The maintenance of honor and integrity, of graciousness in personal behavior, of honorable ideals in everyday living, of a high standard of morality, and of abstinence from alcohol and tobacco is required of every student.”[77]

That students understood and valued the CCH mission and vision with its focus on sacralizing education is seen in the constitution they developed for the Associated Students of the Church College of Hawaii:

  1. To help promote a united student fellowship that will uphold the ideals of equal rights, self-realization, and righteous living
  2. To bring to reality those objectives which will enable the college to become the center of education and to further God’s holy purposes in the establishment of The Church College of Hawaii
  3. To provide such measures and means in the student’s life while at college that will help establish peace in the world, and will develop obedience to those principles of manhood and womanhood that will culminate in the realization of our ideals.[78]

Students from the college visited wards and branches in the Oahu and Honolulu stakes to encourage their peers to come to CCH. Known as the Deputation Team, these students were responsible for preparing and presenting sacrament meetings and sharing their “religious views and the spirit of CCH.”[79] A flyer created by the college identified who could attend: “Anyone who is a high school graduate, and who gives evidence that he will seriously pursue his studies and observe the college’s high standards of Christian living, can qualify for admission. High school graduation may not be required for adults who otherwise qualify. This includes all races and religions. Every race found in Hawaii is now represented in the student body. One-third of the students are not Latter-Day Saints.”[80] It is clear that the new school was interested in recruiting local students regardless of their cultural background as long as they wanted to learn in an environment that emphasized religious faith and study amid secular learning. This meant that a variety of cultural backgrounds would be present at the school, exerting a desirable influence on campus culture.

Students were constantly reminded of Church leaders’ expectations for them. The student newspaper reported that Bishop Thorpe B. Isaacson, a member of the Presiding Bishopric, had told students, “Is it just by chance that we are attending the Church College of Hawaii? ‘No,’ says Bishop Isaacson, ‘we are a select few who are going to be the leaders of tomorrow.’”[81] Students were expected to develop both spiritual and temporal leadership skills and to use them to better their homes wherever they happened to settle. Church leaders hoped that the Polynesian students attending the college would leaven their communities and strengthen the Church across the Pacific.

In like manner, university leaders consistently emphasized that “the college was built to serve educational needs of young people in the Pacific” and that the student body needed to have “a wide representation of fine people and their cultures.” At the same time, the “college must retain predominantly Pacific area and Latter-day Saint emphasis and atmosphere.”[82] Given the importance of that charge, the Advisory Committee recommended that the college president create a committee of college faculty to “make recommendations as to the reasonable proportions of mainlanders, non-LDS, and LDS at the college” while unanimously agreeing that “the opportunity for Latter-day Saints from the Pacific Islands ought never to be infringed upon by enrollment of mainlanders.”[83] These early decisions created a unique student body. In 1958 the sophomore class president, Tom Edwards, wrote that “one might call the Church College of Hawaii a sort of ‘international meeting place,’ where people of all nations meet and learn together. CCH is unique in this way, because it is helping its students understand other people.”[84] The Church College of Hawaii brought together a number of different cultural perspectives and helped students develop an understanding of those cultures. The makeup of the student body better prepared those students to be leaders in their local communities.

College leaders implemented an active devotional program to provide a common spiritual experience that bridged the different backgrounds of the students. In one of his first presidential reports, Reuben D. Law remarked, “Our devotional assemblies and student activity assemblies are an important feature of our college, one of the very distinctive features of the Church College of Hawaii. Much of the spirit of this institution grows out of those assemblies. My, how blessed and fortunate we have been with the number of General Authorities of the Church who have been here and given messages of inspiration and instruction to our students and faculty. And we have also been greatly thrilled and benefitted by messages from Temple presidents, Mission presidents, members of the Board of Trustees, community and church leaders, civic leaders, and I want you to know that our faculty members have pitched in and have given some great messages in these assemblies to our students.”[85] Students agreed with President Law about the value of devotionals, writing in the school yearbook that “the Tuesday devotionals were a vital part of our religious program.”[86] General Church leaders including Elders Harold B. Lee and Joseph F. Smith, and President David O. McKay, as well as college leaders and faculty, took the opportunity to participate in these devotional assemblies. Attendance at devotional assemblies was a requirement for all students and faculty at the college.[87]

In 1957 the Board of Trustees of the Church College of Hawaii began considering the “advisability of establishing a Branch of the Church on the Campus.”[88] President Law was asked to investigate and report back to the board. A branch of the Church was established on campus in January 1959, and university leaders felt that it had “made tremendous progress.”[89] A major goal of the branch was to provide students, particularly Polynesian students, with ecclesiastical leadership opportunities. The course catalog for 1961–1962 states that the branch “is operated like other wards and branches of the Church. It is presided over by a faculty member who is assisted by two student counselors. Other faculty members serve as Branch Clerk and Personnel Coordinator. All other positions, which number about one hundred, are held by students.”[90] Students felt that the branch “was the guiding light of each CCH student in his efforts to attain his goals in life. The successful leadership of the Branch was shown through the high attendance records for all the meetings.”[91] Church leaders had seen how having ecclesiastical units on campus at BYU had strengthened the relationship between the Church and the university and hoped that having an ecclesiastical unit on the CCH campus would provide a similar benefit. They also believed that having a branch on campus would provide students with leadership experiences that would allow them to serve in Church leadership capacities in the Pacific after they graduated. Toward that end, faculty member Lynn Tyler was asked to “develop a leadership and training program for the College Ward.”[92]

Administrators of the new college carefully considered the needs of students and decided that “‘book learning’ (and without an adequate library) and church activities, important and necessary as these surely are, are not sufficient to prepare the students to learn how to live in a modern world; and that the students need to engage in a variety of social, cultural, and civic activities in order to become effective citizens, good family members, contributing members of the Church.”[93] The committee recommended that a variety of cultural activities be made available to students to enrich their education. These expanded activities offered students opportunities to expand their leadership skills and gain a greater understanding of world cultures. Plays, musical performances, art exhibits, and lyceum courses highlighted the cultures of the native Hawaiian and other Polynesian students.

Church and college leaders focused on creating a strong spiritual atmosphere by establishing campus ecclesiastical units, implementing a devotional program, and selecting faculty who believed in the mission of the college. They also focused was on caring “for the peculiar needs of the people of Hawaii and other Pacific islands of every race and creed” while “expecting them to live according to accepted L.D.S. standards.”[94] These actions formed the environment in which the culture of the Church College of Hawaii began to develop.

Teacher Training

As early as 1958, CCH administrators were lobbying to add two years to the curriculum and to elevate the school to a four-year college with a strong teacher-training program. Then-president Richard T. Wootton wrote to Owen J. Cook, the chair of the Pacific Board of Trustees, that “a church college four year teacher training program would produce many more Latter-Day Saint teachers for the Hawaiian and other Pacific systems and would provide island people to help man the church schools in the Pacific, at a savings to the church and a great financial help to the trained young people, helping the strength of the Kingdom in the Pacific. The dire need for teachers in Hawaii and elsewhere practically guarantees ready employment for the additional saints we can train.”[95] CCH administrators were rewarded for their efforts in 1960 when the First Presidency announced “through the Pacific Board that The Church College of Hawaii was to become, in addition to a junior college, a four-year teacher training college.”[96]

With its previous developments and now the addition of teacher training to its offerings, the Church College of Hawaii was beginning to resemble the Church’s flagship institution of higher education—Brigham Young University—more than ever. Yet the framework adopted from BYU used in establishing CCH proved flexible enough to allow the school to develop its own unique place in the education system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Education is at the core of Latter-day Saint theology. As stated on the Church’s website, “God wants us to educate our minds, improve our skills, and perfect our abilities so we can be a better influence for good in the world, provide for ourselves, our family, and those in need, and build God’s kingdom.”[97] To aid members in those pursuits, the Church has established an educational network. The Church Educational System (CES)[98] “provides educational opportunities to help Church members throughout the world become true disciples of Jesus Christ, with His gospel embedded deep in their hearts.”[99] CES provides religious and secular education to elementary, secondary, and postsecondary students and adult learners.

Under inspired guidance, the Church College of Hawaii, now known as Brigham Young University–Hawaii, became a prominent fixture in the educational landscape of the Church in the Pacific. The different cultures reflected in its student body have flavored, and continue to exert a commendable influence on, the unique culture of the school. The great experiment of balancing religious instruction with secular higher education in the Pacific proved successful, becoming a key component of the college’s DNA. From there CCH’s impact would only deepen and become global, accelerated by the status it maintains today as a sister university of its equally successful predecessor, Brigham Young University.[100]


[1] Samuel H. Hurst journal, March 1920–July 1923, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter Church History Library), typescript, entry dated February 8, 1921.

[2] See J. Gordon Daines III, “‘By Study and Also by Faith’: Balancing the Sacred and the Secular at Brigham Young University in the 1930s and 1940s,” BYU Studies 59, no. 1 (2020): 157–82.

[3] Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 104.

[4] See George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 33–44, for a discussion of the establishment of Harvard University.

[5] See Leonard, Nauvoo, 195.

[6] For more on the early history of the University of Deseret, see Ralph V. Chamberlin, The University of Utah: A History of Its First One Hundred Years, 1850 to 1950 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1960), 1–60; and Royal Ruel Meservy, “A Historical Study of Changes in Policy of Higher Education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (EdD thesis, University of California at Los Angeles, 1966), 94–104.

[7] On the conflict between Latter-day Saint and other perspectives on education, see John D. Monnett Jr., “The Mormon Church and Its Private School System in Utah: The Emergence of the Academies, 1880–1892” (PhD diss., University of Utah, 1984).

[8] On the concerns that Young and other Church leaders had about the growing public free school movement, see A. LeGrand Richards, Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2014), 319–55.

[9] Chamberlin, University of Utah, 61.

[10] Joseph Horne Jeppson, The Secularization of the University of Utah, to 1920 (PhD diss., University of California, Berkley, 1973), 74.

[11] See Ernest L. Wilkinson, ed., Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 1:62.

[12] Handwritten copy of the deed of trust, October 16, 1875, UA 6, Brigham Young University Board of Trustees records, 1875–1985, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter Perry Special Collections), 1–3.

[13] See Meservy, “Historical Study of Changes in Policy of Higher Education,” 265. There is no definitive answer as to how many academies the Church actually ran in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For purposes of this study, the academies counted are those with physical plants.

[14] See Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 1:265.

[15] See Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 1:375.

[16] Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Brigham Young College Board of Trustees, May 21, 1909, Church History Library. Brigham Young Academy was not the only school established by Brigham Young. He also established Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah, in 1877, one of the institutions of higher education that the Church ran until its closure in 1925. For more on the closing of Brigham Young College and its role in the Church’s educational network, see J. Gordon Daines III, “Charting the Future of Brigham Young University: Franklin S. Harris and the Changing Landscape of the Church’s Educational Network, 1921–1926,” BYU Studies 45, no. 4 (2006): 68–98.

[17] See “Dr. Harris, Pres.-Elect Visits School,” White and Blue, May 4, 1921, 1, Perry Special Collections.

[18] For more information on Harris’s expansion of BYU’s mission, see Daines III, “Charting the Future of Brigham Young University,” 68–98.

[19] See Robert Benne, Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001).

[20] See Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 2:367–68.

[21] Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 2:425–26.

[22] For more on McDonald’s activities at BYU, see Daines III, “Balancing the Sacred and the Secular at Brigham Young University,” BYU Studies 59, no. 1 (2020): 157–82.

[23] See J. Gordon Daines III, E. Vance Randall, and A. LeGrand Richards, “Firm in the Faith: How Religiously Affiliated Institutions Stay True to their Religious Moorings, Christian Higher Education 21, no. 3 (2022): 1–21.

[24] Reuben D. Law, The Founding and Early Development of the Church College of Hawaii (St. George, UT: Dixie College Press, 1972), 25.

[25] Church College of Hawaii, Church College of Hawaii General Catalog, 1956–1957 (Laie, Oahu, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1956), 17.

[26] Report to Oahu Stake Presidency by Special L.D.S. School Committee, July 13, 1949, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964, Brigham Young University–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections, David O. McKay Library, Laie, HI, 1.

[27] Minutes of Meeting Held at Oahu Stake Tabernacle, July 13, 1949, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964, 1.

[28] Report to Oahu Stake Presidency by Special L.D.S. Committee, July 13, 1949, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964, 3.

[29] Report to Oahu Stake Presidency by Special L.D.S. School Committee, July 13, 1949, 3.

[30] Church College of Hawaii General Catalog, 1956–1957, 17–18.

[31] “Students Receive Diplomas for Seminary Course,” Murray Eagle 69, no. 32 (1951): 1.

[32] Memorandum of Conference with Frank McGhie, July 19, 1954, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964. The memorandum appears to have been written by the Church College of Hawaii’s first president, Reuben D. Law.

[33] Wesley P. Lloyd to the First Presidency, August 9, 1952, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964, 1.

[34] Lloyd to the First Presidency, August 9, 1952.

[35] Lloyd to the First Presidency, August 9, 1952.

[36] “Church to establish College in Hawaii,” Deseret News and Salt Lake Telegram, July 21, 1954, p. 1.

[37] Ralph Dallas Olson, History of the Church College of Hawaii, 1955–1960 (Logan, UT: master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1961), 24.

[38] David O. McKay, dedicatory address at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Church College of Hawaii, February 12, 1955, Perry Special Collections.

[39] McKay, dedicatory address.

[40] McKay, dedicatory address.

[41] Law, Founding and Early Development of the Church College of Hawaii, 64.

[42] “President McKay Dedicates College,” Deseret News and Salt Lake Telegram, December 18, 1958, A8.

[43] “BYU–Hawaii Mission and Vision,”

[44] Church College of Hawaii, Annual Catalog, 1958–1959 (Laie, Oahu, Hawaii: Church College of Hawaii, 1958), 16.

[45] Objectives of Church College of Hawaii, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[46] Church College of Hawaii, Report of the Accreditation Committee of the Western College Association, November 1963, Laie, Oahu, Hawaii, 1963, 2–3.

[47] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog (Laie, Oahu, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1965), 6.

[48] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog (Laie, Oahu, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1972), 6.

[49] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog (1972), 7.

[50] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog (1972), 7.

[51] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog (1972), 7.

[52] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog (1975), 5.

[53] The Church College of Hawaii became affiliated with Brigham Young University in 1974, and its name was changed to Brigham Young University–Hawaii Campus.

[54] “Mission Statement,” BYU Hawaii Catalog, 1982–1983.

[55] “Mission Statement,” BYU Hawaii Catalog (2022),

[56] “Mission Statement,” BYU Hawaii Catalog (2022).

[57] Office of the First Presidency to President Edward L. Clissold, Elder Ralph E. Woolley, and President D. Arthur Haycock, November 12, 1954, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[58] Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Church College of Hawaii, May 10, 1955, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[59] See Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Church College of Hawaii, July 19, 1956, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[60] At the time of the establishment of the Church College of Hawaii, the Church operated a network of primary and secondary schools in the Pacific area. The Church would eventually establish additional postsecondary institutions in the Pacific area. All these schools were under the direction of the Pacific Board of Education.

[61] Leon Hartshorn, Mormon Education in the Bold Years (EdD thesis, Stanford University, 1965), 186.

[62] Church College of Hawaii, Na Hoa Pono (Laie, Hawaii: Church College of Hawaii, 1958), 12. Na Hoa Pono is the school yearbook and can be accessed digitally at

[63] See V. Lynn Tyler, The Religious Program of the Pacific Board of Education (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1964), 14.

[64] See Pacific Board of Education Policy, Rules and Regulations, 1961–1962, Pacific Board of Education Records, BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections, 1.

[65] Owen J. Cook to Virgil Smith, June 17, 1961, Pacific Board of Education Records, BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[66] See Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 2:363.

[67] Reuben D. Law diary, June 13, 1955, in Law, Founding and Early Development of the Church College of Hawaii, 79–80.

[68] Luden Fresh, “Challenges Face Faculty, Students,” Ke Alaka’I (Laie, HI), December 2, 1958, Church History Library, 4.

[69] Tyler, The Religious Program of the Pacific Board of Education, p. 7-8.

[70] Pacific Board of Education, Policy, Rules and Regulations, 1961–1962, Pacific Board of Education Records, BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections, 2.

[71] Owen J. Cook to John Jensen, June 1, 1959, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[72] See Norman W. Faldmo Sr., ed., Church College of Hawaii and Its Builders (Laie, Oahu, HI, December 1958).

[73] H. Roland Tietjen to Richard T. Wootton, October 20, 1961, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[74] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog, 1956–1957 (Laie, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1956), 17.

[75] Church College of Hawaii, Na Hoa Pono (Laie, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1961), 5. This school yearbook can be accessed digitally at

[76] See chapter 7 of Conclusions and Recommendations in Brief, draft of 1954 Survey Committee report, n.d., Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964, 1.

[77] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog, 1956–1957.

[78] “Purposes,” Constitution of the Associated Students of The Church College of Hawaii, 1955, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[79] Church College of Hawaii, Na Hoa Pono (Laie, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1959), 51. This school yearbook can be accessed digitally at

[80] “Opening new doors to a college education in Hawaii,” ca. 1959, Pacific Board of Education records, Brigham Young University–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[81] “Bishop Leaves Inspiration on Life’s Work,” Ke Alaka’I, vo1. 1, no. 2, March 6, 1956, 1.

[82] Richard T. Wootton, “Message from the President,” Ke Alaka’I, January 29, 1960, 1.

[83] Minutes of the Advisory Committee of the Church College of Hawaii, November 24, 1959, UAH 1, Pacific Board of Education records, Brigham Young University-Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[84] Tom Edwards, “Class President Bids CCH Mahalo, Aloha,” Ke Alaka’I, June 5, 1958, 1.

[85] Report Given by Dr. Reuben D. Law, President of The Church College of Hawaii, at the Commencement Exercises of the College on June 1, 1956, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964, 8.

[86] Church College of Hawaii, Na Hoa Pono (Laie, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1958), 43. Na Hoa Pono is the school yearbook and can be accessed digitally at

[87] See Minutes of the Faculty meeting of the Church College of Hawaii, May 10, 1955, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[88] Minutes of the Board of Trustees, June 18, 1957, Church College of Hawaii board of trustees minutes, 1955–1992, Brigham Young University–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[89] Administrator’s Report by Dr. Richard T. Wootton, June 5, 1959, Church College of Hawaii presidential records, 1955–1964.

[90] Church College of Hawaii, General Catalog, 1961–1962 (Laie, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1961), 19.

[91] Church College of Hawaii, Na Hoa Pono (Laie, HI: Church College of Hawaii, 1959), 48.

[92] Arlean and Lynn Tyler to Thomas Lee Tyler, May 6, 1962, Lynn Tyler correspondence, March 1960–October 1962, Church History Library.

[93] Meeting Minutes (ca. 1956) of the Joint Meeting of the Committees on Professional Affairs and Public Relations, University President’s Papers, 1954–1968, Brigham Young University–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[94] Report to Oahu Stake Presidency by Special L.D.S. School Committee, July 13, 1949, Chapter IV: Curriculum and Related Considerations, University President’s Papers, 1954–1968, Brigham Young University-Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[95] Richard T. Wootton to Owen J. Cook, November 24, 1958, Pacific Board of Education records, Brigham Young University–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.

[96] “The Church College of Hawaii, President’s Annual Report, June 3, 1960,” Brigham Young University-Hawaii Miscellany, Church History Library, 2.

[97] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Education,” Gospel Topics,

[98] The Church Educational System (CES) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comprises several institutions that provide religious and secular education to both Latter-day Saint and non–Latter-day Saint elementary, secondary, and postsecondary students as well as adult learners.

[99] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Purpose of the Church Educational System,” Gospel Topics,

[100] See James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 632.