A New Home, A New Life
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“A New Home, A New Life,” Ensign, Aug. 1973, 56

A New Home, A New Life

Contributions of the European Saints in Building the Kingdom

Working against time, the builders of the Nauvoo Temple had made considerable progress by July 1845. But their ability to work began to outdistance the support church finances could give to their labors. Anxious church leaders held council meetings, and Brigham Young exhorted them to exercise their faith in behalf of the temple project. Then, according to one account, Giuseppe (Joseph) Toronto, a former seaman from Sicily, walked into one of these meetings; and “taking from his pockets several cove oyster cans, he rolled them across the table to President Young. When these were opened, there was $2,500 in twenty dollar gold pieces which he had saved during his seafaring life. He told President Young that he wanted to give himself and all that he had for the upbuilding of the Church and the Kingdom of God.” (“Sketch of the Life of Joseph Toronto,” typescript, Mormon Biographies Collection, Historical Department of the Church.)

With the help of Brother Toronto’s donation, construction progressed; and by the first of August, the roof of the temple was being finished.

Elder Toronto’s contribution was unusual, but his dedication was quite like that of many other converts of the Church from the countries to be represented at the area conference at Munich. They are referred to as continental Europeans. (In common usage this also includes Scandinavians; but for the purpose of this article, only the area represented at the Munich conference is considered.) First in Nauvoo and later in Utah and many other areas of the world, these converts have given much of great significance to the Church and its members.

Not all of these Saints discovered the Church on their native soil; many of them found missionaries in a new land even before the Church had begun any continued proselyting in their own countries. Elder Toronto, for instance, was baptized in Boston in 1843. Alexander Neibaur, possibly the first Jewish convert to the Church, was born in Ehrenbreitstein, Germany, and joined the Church in England. In Nauvoo, he became a friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith and taught him German and possibly Hebrew. Neibaur became a pioneer dentist in Salt Lake City, as well as a manufacturer of matches and a teacher of German. Meliton Gonzalez Trejo, an officer in the Spanish army, sought out the Mormons in Salt Lake City in 1874. He later helped translate the Book of Mormon into Spanish and served three missions to Mexico.

But most of the European converts were found by missionaries in their homelands. One man, Karl G. Maeser, persisted in writing inquiries about the Church until missionaries were finally sent to him in his native Saxony, where active proselyting was forbidden by law. The Church benefited, as it always does, from its investment of missionary time and expense: after Brother Maeser’s conversion in 1855 he performed missionary work in Great Britain and the southern United States and presided over the Philadelphia Saints before moving to Salt Lake City in 1860. He became perhaps the Church’s most influential educator of the nineteenth century.

One of the most significant contributions of these early converts was the role they played, along with such Church leaders as Elders John Taylor and Lorenzo Snow of the Council of the Twelve, in opening their native lands to missionary work. Their language proficiency and knowledge of local conditions were necessary for effective missionary work.

Elder Toronto was one of four, including Elder Snow, to begin missionary work in Italy, where the Church found short-lived but significant success among the Protestant Waldenses of Piedmont.

A. W. van der Woude, a Dutch immigrant who was probably the first of his countrymen to become a Latter-day Saint, returned to The Netherlands in 1861 as one of the first two missionaries to that land. He had been baptized in Wales in 1852. Paul A. Schettler, a convert from Germany, was his companion.

Mischa Markow, born in Hungary, not only helped begin missionary work in Belgium in 1888, but also proselyted in Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and in his native Hungary.

But not all the missionary efforts of the continental European converts were directed toward Europe. Henry Eyring, a German immigrant who joined the Church in St. Louis, became an early missionary to the Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw nations in 1855 and was president of the Indian Territory Mission from 1858–60. He was later a missionary to Germany and Switzerland and then to Mexico; and he subsequently became an important Church leader in Colonia Juarez, Mexico.

German-born Saints were at least partly responsible for the beginning of missionary work in South America. Wilhelm Friedrichs, Emil Hoppe, and their families, converts from Germany, immigrated to Argentina in 1923. After teaching some of their neighbors about the Church, they wrote to Church authorities in 1925, requesting that missionaries be sent to South America.

Within a few months, the South American Mission was established, with German and Spanish as its functional languages. K. B. Reinhold Stoof, born in Prussia, served as the mission president for nine years (1926–35), and during his presidency much of the missionary work was concentrated among the German-speaking people of Argentina and Brazil.

As more continental Europeans joined the Church in their own countries, some became missionaries there. Others emigrated but returned as missionaries and sent their sons and daughters on missions back to the lands of their fathers. To date, more than fifty men born in continental Europe have presided over missions in Europe and elsewhere. Thus, in terms of the years of work involved and the numbers of persons affected, the missionary efforts of the continental European Mormons stand as a significant contribution to the Church.

Early missionaries encouraged their European converts to immigrate to the United States. Between five and six thousand continental European Saints set out for Utah before the turn of the century.

The number of continental European immigrants was tripled in the years 1900–1972. Roughly one-third of all Mormon emigrants from this area left Europe after World War II. They, like their predecessors, became interwoven into the fiber of the populace and made their influence felt in innumerable ways.

Three men of continental European birth or descent have served in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church. Joseph L. Wirthlin, grandson of Swiss immigrants, was Presiding Bishop for nine years, 1952–61. His second counselor was Carl W. Buehner, born in Stuttgart, Germany. Bishop Wirthlin’s successor (1961–72), John H. Vandenberg, the son of emigrants from The Netherlands, is currently an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. And Edward Stevenson, an early member of the First Council of the Seventy, was born on Gibraltar in 1820. Many other General Authorities can also trace their family lines to continental Europe.

In 1973, men born in continental Europe were stake presidents in six stakes on the European continent and in Chicago South Stake, the Sao Paulo (Brazil) Stake, and Wells (Salt Lake City) Stake. Bartelt Wolthuis, born in Holland, was not only president of the Lorin Farr Stake but also mayor of Ogden, Utah. Three Regional Representatives of the Council of the Twelve and one Mission Representative of the Twelve and the First Council of the Seventy were also born in continental Europe, as was the president of the Swiss temple, Immo Luschin von Ebengreuth.

In addition to their ecclesiastical service, continental Europeans have made many other contributions to the Church and to Mormon life and culture. They, as well as early missionaries, filled a pressing need for expertise in early Mormon agriculture, by bringing a wide variety of seeds to the western United States from Europe.

Louis Bertrand, at the time of his conversion, was the editor of a French newspaper. He had never been involved in agriculture in his life; yet he became one of Salt Lake City’s most successful gardeners and horticulturists. Noted for his cauliflower, he boasted of having introduced French almond trees and Chinese sugar cane (sweet sorghum) to Utah. During his term as French Mission president (1859–64), he sent grape seeds to Utah.

For many years Santa Clara in southwestern Utah was the location of a relatively successful grape culture. Many of the settlers there were Swiss immigrants who accepted the call to pioneer the area under the leadership of Daniel Bonelli. Other crops grown by the early Santa Clara Swiss Saints included sorghum (important as a source for molasses), cotton, and peaches.

European Mormons contributed to the early silk industry in Utah. Octave Ursenbach, a Swiss convert from Geneva, was an early leader in the importation of silkworms. Susanna Goudin Cardon, one of the early Italian Saints, brought to Utah patterns for the use of silk and taught classes in Salt Lake City, Logan, and elsewhere on the culture and use of silk. Her husband, Paul Cardon, imported the mulberry trees on which the silkworms fed. Although the culture of silk in Utah and the surrounding territory was never successful on a large scale, it was a major part of the effort of the Saints, particularly the Relief Societies, to be self-sufficient and to keep the young women of the Church employed in uplifting pursuits.

A resourceful Mormon engineer and mechanic from the Island of Jersey in the English Channel, Philip De La Mare, studied European sugar production and helped Elder John Taylor arrange for Utah’s first beet sugar machinery to be constructed in Liverpool. After the heavy equipment reached St. Louis, De La Mare had to use forty large Santa Fe wagons to transport it to Provo.

This heroic venture was not wholly successful. Unanticipated costs and delays put pressure on the owners of the machinery for quick results, and they failed to obtain certain essential equipment for refining sugar. The Sugar House area of Salt Lake City took its name from an attempt to produce sugar in that location with De La Mare’s machinery. Sugar beet culture and sugar production were eventually successful, however.

De La Mare’s later work as a blacksmith in Tooele nearly approached the scale of heavy industry. He produced such wonders as a plow so large that it was pulled by nine yoke of oxen; he also produced a 500-pound anchor for the Kate Connor, the first steamship to ply the Great Salt Lake.

In 1862 one of Utah’s foremost painters, John Hafen, immigrated to Utah as a boy of six with his family from the canton of Thurgau, Switzerland. His early artistic efforts showed promise; and, feeling keenly the need for further education, he appealed to the First Presidency for help. As a result, he and three others were called to France as full-time missionaries. Their assignment was to become artists, and the Church paid their expenses for a year, with the intent that after their return to Utah they would paint murals for the Salt Lake Temple.

From 1892 to 1894 Elder Hafen painted murals. Later, unable to support his family on proceeds from his art, he contracted with the Church to produce paintings for two years. The money he was paid averaged about $14.50 for each of over two hundred of his paintings—a remarkable bargain even in those days.

Another Latter-day Saint artist, Arno Alfred Steinicke (1892–1968), born in Aken, Germany, became a painter and sculptor of note. One of his works, a relief of Christ and little children, hangs in the Salt Lake Temple, and copies are found in the St. George, Manti, and Logan temples and in Salt Lake’s Nibley Park Ward.

But it was in music that the European converts became perhaps best known. Many immigrant Mormons were said to have sung their way to their Zion. Elder George A. Smith, then a member of the Council of the Twelve, noted of the Swiss colonists on their way to settle Santa Clara: “We met the Swiss company of fourteen wagons, headed by Daniel Bonelli, at Kanarrah Creek. They excited much curiosity through the country by their singing and good cheer.” (Millennial Star, vol. 24 [1862], pp. 41–42.)

The Santa Clara brass band, founded about three years later, gained renown for its performances in southwestern Utah and southern Nevada. Other musical groups that have been an important part of Mormon culture in Utah have included Dutch, Swiss, and German choirs, and bands and orchestras led by immigrant musicians. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, too, has drawn upon the talents of members from continental Europe.

Mormon congregational music owes much to these people. Philip De La Mare wrote the words for the hymn “Let Each Man Learn to Know Himself.” Frank I. Kooyman, a Dutch immigrant and once the president of the Netherlands Mission, authored many Dutch Mormon hymns and such English-language hymns as “How Beautiful Thy Temples, Lord,” “In Memory of the Crucified,” and “Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls.” Music for the latter three was written by Alexander Schreiner, Tabernacle organist.

Born in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Brother Schreiner was the organist for the local branch of the Church at the age of eight. He and his family emigrated when he was eleven. In Utah he became an accomplished composer and an educator, as well as Tabernacle organist and accompanist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Karl G. Maeser, a native of Meissen, Germany, arrived in Utah in 1860 at a time when educators were needed to implement the Church’s educational ideals in the early schools. As a teacher, as head of Brigham Young Academy in Provo (later Brigham Young University), and later as the Church’s general superintendent of schools (1888–1901), Brother Maeser made educational excellence a reality.

In 1890 the territorial legislature prohibited the teaching of religion in Utah’s public schools. Were Latter-day Saint families to be forced to send their children to Catholic and Protestant schools if they wanted education with a religious orientation? Brother Maeser supervised the Church’s solution to the problem. He helped establish the Church’s first religion classes in elementary schools outside of school hours, a forerunner of the present-day seminary system. He also led in the expansion of the Church’s system of academies.

Many other Latter-day Saint educators came from Europe. One of the most versatile of these, Gerrit de Jong, Jr., emigrated from The Netherlands in 1906 at the age of sixteen. A musician and composer of note, he made great educational contributions in languages and linguistics, particularly in the Portuguese language and literature. He organized the College of Fine Arts at Brigham Young University and was its first dean (1925–59), served for more than thirty years on the Sunday School general board, and has written several books about religion.

Elise Furer Musser emigrated from Switzerland in 1897, and her record of public service in her adopted country was remarkable. Soft-spoken, red-haired, and determined, she represented the United States at an international peace conference in Buenos Aires (1936) and the International Conference of American States in Lima (1938). She was a state senator, Salt Lake County recorder, a trustee of Utah State Agricultural College (now University), and a leader of Utah war relief efforts for Europe during World War II. Mrs. Musser was also a member of the Utah Unemployment Commission during the depression of the 1930s, a Democratic National Committeewoman, and a crusader for child welfare.

That kind of public spirit among convert immigrants was not unique to Elise Musser. Among 155 immigrant converts in Cache Valley surveyed by R. Welling Roskelley in 1933, there had been one state legislator, one mayor, two city councilmen, one justice of the peace, three members of school boards, one marshal, and several election judges. The majority of the immigrants came from continental Europe. This record of civic responsibility was noteworthy for people who often had to make difficult adjustments to the language and customs of their new homeland.

From the beginning of missions in continental Europe, Saints from these countries have served as translators for Church publications, translating the standard works, lesson materials, and other important books and pamphlets. Moreover, translation has been done in several languages in which the Church as yet has not actively carried on its programs. The Book of Mormon, for example, has been fully or partially translated into seven continental European languages in which it has not yet been published, in addition to the six in which it is now available. We cannot begin to estimate what significance these translations will continue to have in the future.

Saints from these countries helped colonize and settle Utah and the West. The influence of German-speaking Saints was particularly felt in Santa Clara, Utah; Summit County, Utah (Midway); Bear Lake County, Idaho (Bern, Geneva); and Cache Valley, Utah (Providence). Many Dutch immigrants settled in Salt Lake City and Ogden.

In assessing their overall impact on the Church, one must realize that between 1850 and the present time the continental Europeans have averaged about 2.3 percent of the total population of Utah. Only two-thirds of these have been Latter-day Saints.

It is probably too early to evaluate the contributions of the post-World War II immigrants. And we have not yet even begun to assemble information about one of the greatest contributions of the immigrants: their descendants.

The presence of immigrants from many nations has had its influence on the geographically isolated Mormon community. But the impact of the European immigrants on their neighbors was probably lessened by the existence of strong pressure for them to become assimilated into the general populace and conform to its folkways. Nevertheless, they helped their neighbors gain tolerance and a broader outlook with a diversity of interests.

Since about the time the Church’s European temples were constructed, emigration of the Saints from continental Europe has declined markedly. With the creation of stakes in The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany, and the expansion of the Church’s activities in other European countries, the contributions of European Mormons has increasingly centered in building the Church in their own homelands.

  • Brother Jensen is employed as historical associate in the Church’s Historical Department. He lives in Forest Dale Ward, Granite Stake, where he serves as Cubmaster and as Gospel Doctrine teacher in Sunday School.

Castle Gardens in New York City, through which all immigrants had to pass

Henry Eyring, German immigrant, missionary, Church leader.

Left: Dedication of birthplace of Karl G. Maeser in Germany.

Below: Sunday School at Bielefeld, Germany, in 1922.

Bottom: Missionaries and first members to join Church in Lyon, France, 1910.

Above: Machinery used in silkmaking process.

Below: LDS choir in Nurnberg, Bavaria, with Alexander Schreiner, then 10 years old, in front.

Page 61: Church-owned painting, Flower Girl (1902), by Swiss artist John Hafen.