“Teaming Up for Temple Work,” Ensign, June 1995, 30
The impression settling on President Michel J. Carter’s mind just before he arose to speak at a stake priesthood meeting in 1993 seemed a bold idea—a challenge never before issued in the French-speaking Montreal Quebec Stake …
Five months earlier, in December 1992, stake members had kept a temple date despite a heavy snowfall that had doubled travel time to the Toronto Ontario Temple to twelve hours. On that stormy day, noted a member of the temple presidency, “only members from the Montreal Quebec Stake crossed the white curtain of snow around the temple” to serve in the Lord’s house. That success would lead to another, even greater success.
“Brethren,” said the stake president in mellifluous French, “to better prepare for upcoming stake conference, let us as a stake go together to the temple in numbers large enough to perform saving ordinances for an entire ward beyond the veil.”
That inspired goal meant doing all ordinances needed to complete the temple work for six hundred individuals during one three-day trip to the Toronto Ontario Temple. It went without saying that most of the names would come from stake members already immersed in researching their own family lines.
“We numbered 225 and achieved our goal during a stake temple excursion less than two months later,” says President Carter, his matter-of-factness belying the scope of the achievement. Even more remarkable is the increased momentum generated by that blockbuster success: Bustling family history research and temple trips focused on completing stake members’ family file work continue to take place in smooth fashion every month in the stake.
As a result, the stake is unified, the hearts of its temple-loving Saints drawn not only to their ancestors but also to one another as they pitch in to help complete ordinance work for the thousands of deceased ancestors whose names they submit to the temple each year.
“Temple work in this stake is a shared activity,” says Louis DeSerres, stake high council adviser for temple and family history work. “Those blocked in their own research or who have not yet begun work on their family lines help those who have names prepared for ordinance work but who for various reasons cannot do that work themselves. In this process members are blessed with a greater joy in doing temple work while others are motivated to begin work on their own family files at the temple. It’s heartwarming.”
After the opening of the Toronto temple in 1990, which halved Montrealers’ travel time to their nearest temple, the Montreal Quebec Stake’s family history and temple activity began to surge into what is today a finely tuned, largely self-perpetuating tradition. All is in place to set the tone and pace for further success. This enables stake leaders to expend only moderate energies to keep things in motion as they focus on extending the blessings of temple and family history work stakewide. Each month’s temple trip is a welcome opportunity for stake leaders to make timely adjustments so that the trips have become pleasant and uplifting for all concerned.
What accounts for this success? A combination of factors: the boon of a closer temple; the local availability, abundance, and exceptional quality of French-Canadian records; scores of restricted service ordinance workers (who officiate in the temple only when a group from their stake goes there); strong priesthood support; monthly combined-ward temple trips; and a growing stake family history center fully staffed with dedicated workers.
Add to that base the testimonies, the spiritual experiences, the love for one’s departed ancestors, and an attitude that helping bring salvation to others is a great blessing, not a great sacrifice. The result is a robust stake temple program, the spirit of the work operating abundantly among temple-motivated members.
“The twin dynamos of our stake’s temple effort are our family history center and our monthly temple trips,” says Brother DeSerres. Frequent involvement in both areas brings “a cumulative influence of the Spirit that gradually fills our lives” and blessings not available any other way, he adds.
Seeing their two-pronged temple thrust as an ideal blend—each activity leading to higher levels of personal meaning and involvement in the other—stake leaders avidly support the family history center and the monthly temple trips. This priesthood support “gives us a bigger appetite to work,” says Nicolas Athanassi, director of the stake family history center.
With its metallic, riveted roof supported by bricked pilasters spaced along an encircling, open-air colonnade, the stake center mirrors the sturdy elegance of Pont Jacques-Cartier, an awe-inspiring bridge spanning the Saint Lawrence Seaway nearby. Inside the building’s protective shell is a pearl of a family history center, polished to near functional perfection by the attentions of Brother Athanassi and a corps of dedicated consultants.
The family history center is itself a bridge for patrons searching out links to their ancestral past. For Brother Athanassi, the center has a sacred purpose:
“It’s not just a room to put microfilms and books, but a special, living place where we prepare to be saviors for each other.” The center’s motto posted in French could well be chiseled in stone as a soul-stirring inscription: The dead sleep no longer in scornful forgetfulness because, of the past, I have made an eternal present.
“The Spirit is here; even the nonmembers who come here feel it,” says Brother Athanassi, who with a keen eye for optimal utility drew up the plans for the center’s furnishings and general layout. “I want people to see a little perfection in the work of this center so they can change their lives and be more ready to receive higher things,” such as a fulness of temple blessings, he explains. “The center is like my house—I keep it clean, organized, ready to receive visitors.”
And come they do, members and nonmembers in encouraging numbers. Since 1989, member visits to the center have quintupled to about two thousand annually, while nonmember visits have quadrupled to twelve hundred.
One frequent patron, Yowanska Le Prieur of the Hochelaga Ward, loves her calling as director of Family Record Extraction. Baptized in France in 1964, she delved into family research two decades later after a nonmember friend of striking resemblance asked her how they could find out if they were related (they weren’t). Bitten by the proverbial genealogy bug, Sister Le Prieur has never looked back—except into the genealogical past.
“The word is not big enough to say how much I love genealogy,” she says in measured English with a spiritual intensity that speaks volumes of her devotion to the work. Sister Le Prieur’s capacity to remember precise dates—even the exact hour of a day—of events in her life is uncanny; so is her genealogist’s “sixth sense,” which directs her in difficult searches.
Brother Athanassi and his assistants speak at firesides to encourage members to become involved in family history work. Once members trace their lines to about 1900, it is relatively easy for them to go back to the 1600s. Montreal’s oldest available records take the form of Catholic parish registers dating from 1621 to 1900. Copies of post-1900 vital records are available at courthouses for a fee. The National Archives in Montreal houses well-preserved marriage indexes, family dictionaries, the Church’s International Genealogical Index (IGI), vital statistics until 1900, and census schedules. The Montreal Public Library also has a marriage index and the IGI.
“The Church has microfilmed 80 to 85 percent of the index to courthouse civil registration records, or up until 1970,” says Alain Allard, a local bishop and regional acquisitions manager for the Church’s Family History Department. Once this project is completed, the government will make the index, a valuable research tool, available to local libraries. But the spirit felt at the family history center—and its free services—make it a preferred spot for many researchers.
Each year the stake’s largest temple trip occurs just before spring stake conference. The orchestration of the eleven remaining stake-sponsored trips aligned with ward and branch conferences is delegated to those units on an individual, rotating basis. This works so well that each unit-led temple trip is a stake trip on a smaller scale, with members from other units freely caravanning with the sponsoring unit.
This team effort continues to verify the words of Toronto temple president Gerald E. Melchin: “If we include our family, friends, or ward members and come as a group to do the work for our ancestry, we will be able to share together a very spiritual and precious few moments” (Ensign, May 1994, p. 81).
Billed as bilingual, the Toronto temple has its sacred inscription—Holiness to the Lord, The House of the Lord—etched in stone in both English and French.
“We wanted to complete the reality of a French-speaking temple by getting our people to receive the services in French,” says Brother DeSerres. “The language situation has forced us to organize and has provided us with cohesion.”
In her first four years of not missing a single month of temple attendance, Sister Pierrette Sullivan of the Saint Jean Branch wore out three motors in her van.
She felt blessed to land a job enabling her to buy another van so she could continue to travel to the temple with her friends. They love traveling with her so much that her husband jests that he is considering buying a bus like the ones rented for the large, stake-sponsored temple trips. No doubt it would be filled each month.
“You should hear the things being said as we travel,” she says. “They want to keep that spirit and the special experiences we live together. It makes our friendship and love grow. I wouldn’t miss it. The temple is really a change in your life. If more people knew that, the temple wouldn’t be big enough to contain everybody.”
One regular in Sister Sullivan’s van is Ginette Prince, a single mother of six children. “I go to the temple for spiritual strength,” she says. “I cannot explain it. You have to live it to believe it.” Of the blessings of attending the temple, she says, “I count them every day. The Lord does wipe away the tears of those who serve in the temple” (see Rev. 7:13–17).
The temple presidency has called and set apart some 135 stake members, many of them ward or stake leaders, to be restricted service ordinance workers. Members enjoy seeing their leaders officiating in temple ordinances. The extra help is also a boon to temple personnel, who are sometimes spread thin. “We shout for joy whenever the Montreal Quebec Stake comes to the temple,” commented one temple worker.
Years ago when obstacles to Sister Limoges’s family history work had brought her to tears, she received a blessing assuring her that the “doors” would open. “They have opened,” she says, just as they have for other diligent researchers who have been “joined at the crossroads by those who have been prepared to help us” (Boyd K. Packer, quoted in Ensign, May 1991, p. 26).
Denyse Lafreniere, a first-generation convert, had promised her dying father that she would do all she could through family history work to help bring the family together in eternity. But the full name of her first Desrosiers ancestor in France was a mystery. While searching a computer registry after her father’s death, Denyse felt inspired to pause on the name Antoine Desrosiers in a long list of other persons with the same surname. Could he really be the missing link to the Lafrenieres’ ancestry in France that had long puzzled her father?
Two weeks later, Denyse’s brother called from Toronto to inform her that while at a movie theater, he overheard a man behind him address another as Mr. Lafreniere. As it turned out, this stranger was descended from Desrosiers and could even name his Desrosiers forbear: Antoine, born 1617, the same person Denyse had been drawn to in her research!
This discovery reinforced what Denyse had sensed through the Spirit, and soon she had confirmed the Desrosiers-Lafreniere linkage—and had extended her family pedigree into France—by researching records of Antoine’s children. This experience increased her faith in spiritual promptings and brought home to her what President John Taylor described as a “connecting link” between the priesthood in heaven and on earth that enables persons in either sphere to operate in behalf of their otherworldly counterparts (see Journal of Discourses, 25:184–85).
A joyous breakthrough for Haitian convert Sonia Nicolas was when she learned that she could do temple work for her ancestors by using approximate dates.
“All forty names came back approved, so I was excited,” says Sonia. “Family history became a passion for me. I had always been in search of love; but by doing the work for my ancestors, I have learned to know each of them and feel of their love for me.”
Perhaps no one in the stake has seen so many closed doors swing open in such timely fashion as Suzanne Dubois-Painchaud. When a woman came to the family history center last year asking for help to locate her unknown parents, Sister Dubois-Painchaud became emotionally involved in a case that had stumped professional private investigators.
To hear her tell the engrossing details of her two and one-half weeks of detective work is better than reading a mystery novel. Her new friend as an infant had been entrusted to the temporary care of a couple who then left the city and illegally adopted the child they had renamed. Sister Dubois-Painchaud’s prayers, unflagging efforts, and inspired maneuvers led to a tearful, healing reunion between the woman and the amazed but overjoyed father who had given up his daughter for lost long ago.
“I want to remember every day of my life that magnificent story of love,” says Sister Dubois-Painchaud. “We must not keep our ancestors hidden away in a drawer or box, but should send their names to the temple so they may receive the joy of being together as a family.”
To help expand family history and temple work stakewide, stake leaders encourage those involved in that great work to “testify abundantly” of the consequent blessings that flow into their lives. Many members need not look far to punctuate their comments with soul-stirring evidences of blessings both spiritual and material.
“I feel a big spirit when I do this work,” says Sylvie Boisvert of the Saint Jean Branch. “Working in the temple is personally rewarding; it builds self-worth in us because we are helping others. I am impressed to see many nonmembers doing the work, and I can bear my testimony to them. At the national archives, I tell people about the family history center.”
“I don’t work at the family history center because I know lots of things, but because of my testimony,” says Sister Limoges. One person she helped at the family history center later joined the Church and now serves in a local bishopric.
Brother Athanassi always gives a missionary slant to the family history exhibits and presentations that local genealogical societies invite him to conduct. He might arouse people’s interest in the Book of Mormon by raising the question of the origin of Native Americans and then describing the pedigree of Father Lehi and his posterity as set forth in the Book of Mormon. At one such exhibit, he personally placed more than two hundred copies of that book.
The challenges Sister Prince has faced add to her testimony a poignancy that no doubt will continue to help turn many people’s hearts to the temple. Called to serve in the temple during a hard time in her life, she sampled the spirit and blessings of the temple and knew she needed to go on a regular basis.
“I really felt this was my Heavenly Father’s home and my home and that I had to organize myself better,” she reflects tearfully. “The truth was making me free. I knew I had to feel in my own home what I felt in my heart at the temple and that I had to banish from my life any obstacle so I could be more centered on Christ. Midway across the Saint Lawrence Seaway and near the stake center is Saint Helen’s Island, one of two island sites for Montreal’s Expo 67. There in 1969 at the Montreal Fair a Church-sponsored exhibit called the Mormon Pavilion featured the film Man’s Search for Happiness and attracted more than three thousand people daily. Though it does not draw visitors on that scale, the stake family history center influences not only many people in Montreal but also innumerable souls in eternity.
Even as busy as she is with stake extraction work, Sister Yowanska Le Prieur is always willing to help others stymied in research, as she is in extending her Russian line. “I know if I take care of others in their research, God will take care of my work,” she says. “I’m cushioning my eternity with love for my ancestors and others.”
This attitude of helping one another in family history and temple work arises from a strong sense of family-mindedness—of being of “one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18). Many members discover they are of one blood, too, when their pedigrees begin merging in the late 1700s, revealing their common links to Quebec’s early period of French colonization (1642–1760).
“We all help each other out with our research and temple work,” says Sister Pierrette Sullivan. Quebecois are by nature “very warm and friendly, and when they have the gospel, it creates a strong bond among them.”
Two years ago she was privileged to share two sacred temple experiences in two days with a Native American sister from another stake. Sister Sullivan acted on promptings to meet and console the woman, and together in the temple they received a never-to-be-forgotten confirmation that the work this sister had done for her tribal ancestors had been accepted by them.
“Time is never counted when I work in genealogy,” says Sister Liane Pearson, who with her husband, André, has prepared numerous names for temple work. “This work is light and spiritually edifying because we get very close to those for whom we work. We travel in time with them in our hearts.”
Countless members owe their interest and skills in family history research to Sister Pierrette Limoges. A stake family history consultant for the past decade, she is mindful of her advisory role and gives patrons opportunities to develop their own skills and testimony of the work. After that, “it’s an exchange,” she says, referring to how patrons soon develop expertise that they happily share with others.