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Part 5: Apostle to the Polynesians -- Elder Matthew Cowley

Even though Elder Cowley passed away nearly 50 years ago, members of the
Church are still interested in the faith promoting stories of Elder Matthew

Matthew Cowley was born August 2, 1897 in Preston, Idaho, to Matthias F.
Cowley and Abbie Hyde, shortly before his father was called to be an

In 1914, he finished his freshman year at the Latter-day Saint University
in Salt Lake City, Utah, and decided he did not want to return to school
the next year because he wanted to go on a mission instead. He later
reported the following humorous account of his first assignment as a

"I was just turning seventeen when I was called to go to New Zealand as a
missionary. My first appointment there was to a little place called Judea.
. . . At the first meeting I attended in Judea, I could not understand the
words that were being said, and after the meeting a sister who could speak
English said to me: 'Do you know what they said in there, and what they
did?' I said: 'I could not understand a word.' She said, 'Well, you were
called and sustained as the secretary of the Relief Society of the Judea
Branch.' I made up my mind right there and then . . . to get the gift of
the Maori language, even if I had to work for it, and I did have to work
for it" ("Matthew Cowley Speaks," p. 2).

Elder Cowley had to learn the Maori language on his own and during the
first three months he was without a companion. He went to a grove every
morning at 6:00 to study the gospel and the language and to fast and pray.
There he would remain for 11 hours each day. Within three months he was
able to stand before a group of natives and preach the gospel in their
tongue. Those people who knew him on his first mission said he spoke like
an educated native.

His first mission to New Zealand lasted five years. While there, he
prepared the Book of Mormon for its second Maori edition and translated the
Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price into the Maori

Shortly after returning home in 1919, Matthew met Elva Taylor, whom he
married in 1922. The newlyweds made their first home in Washington, D.C.,
while Matthew finished his law degree. Although money was scarce and
Matthew was busy with school and work, the couple had fond memories of
their time in Washington, D.C.

Upon returning to Utah, Matthew began a law practice. Matthew enjoyed his
law practice. "He was as honest as the day is long in all of his law
 cases," his wife once said.

In early March 1926, their only child, Jewel, was born.  In 1941, the
Cowleys adopted a Maori boy named Tony.

In 1938, Matthew had a phone call from the Presidency of the Church to come
to their offices, where they asked him how he would like to be president of
the New Zealand Mission. "It isn't a matter of whether I would like that
position," he answered. "The important thing is whether I am called." Soon,
he received a letter calling him to preside over the New Zealand Mission.
It had been his dream and desire to return to that people and the country
he loved so much.

His term as mission president in New Zealand was to last for seven years,
nearly until the end of World War II. While in New Zealand, the Cowleys
witnessed profound acts of faith and mighty miracles among the Maori

On one occasion, when Matthew was in a little town about 30 miles from
Wellington, a father came to him with his nine-month-old son. He asked
Matthew to bless him with a name, as he had not yet been blessed. Then,
casually, he added, "While you are at it, please bless him to have his
sight. The doctors say he is blind and they can't do anything for him."
President Cowley was prompted to bless the child with his sight and the
child's sight was restored.

Elder Glen L. Rudd, a former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy,
served as a missionary under Matthew Cowley and remembered the events of
October 15, 1944:

"While I was serving as the mission secretary, some elders and I went to
the post office where we were given an exceptionally large cable from
President Heber J. Grant in Salt Lake City. We took it home to President
Cowley. He read it alone in the office and then came out and was joined by
Sister Cowley. Soon the elders and the Cowleys had a meeting in President
Cowley's office. He said, trying to hide his disappointment with humor,
'Well, you birds are going home. I've received a cable from the prophet
calling all the elders home.'"

When the Cowleys returned to Utah, Matthew was called to fill the vacancy
in the Quorum of the Twelve, which occurred when President Heber J. Grant
passed away. With the call came the opportunity for much travel throughout
the world. One of the most memorable of these trips was their visit to
China, where Elder Cowley dedicated the land of the Chinese for missionary

Unexpectedly, Elder Cowley passed away on December 13, 1953 in Los Angeles,
California, where he and his wife had attended the cornerstone-laying
ceremony of the Los Angeles Temple.

Elder Cowley loved the people of New Zealand, and the people of New Zealand
loved Elder Cowley. He is remembered by those who knew him, and revered by
those who only know of him, as a man of great faith.

NEXT WEEK: Part 6: 1948-1958: The New Zealand Temple and the Church College
of New Zealand

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"Matthew Cowley Speaks" (Deseret Book, 1954) is included in Deseret Book's
electronic reference library, "GospeLink 2001." You can buy "GospeLink
 2001" online at

Elder Rudd's address titled "Keeping the Gospel Simple," found in the
January 1989 Ensign, contains several interesting stories and accounts of
Elder Cowley. Additionally, "Classic Discourses from the General
Authorities: Miracles" by Elder Cowley (New Era, June 1975) and "Faith and
a Loving Heart: The Story of Elva Taylor Cowley," by Brent and Sarah Hinze
(Ensign, August 1983), were useful in compiling this message. All three of
these articles are available to read and print online at
in the Gospel Library section.

GEMS is grateful to R. Lanier Britsch for his support of this series.
Brother Britsch's book "Unto the Islands of the Sea, A History of the
Latter-day Saints in the Pacific" (Deseret Book, 1986) is available on
"GospeLink 2001." Purchase link given above.

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