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Joseph F. Smith promises Hawaiian mama she will live to see Laie Temple built

Joseph F. Smith with his wife and other Church leaders.

Sometime in the early 1850s, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Naoheakamalu Manuhii and her husband favorably received “haole” (nonnative Hawaiian) missionaries and their message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Later this young couple cared for a severely ill teenaged missionary. Named after his uncle, this youthful missionary had lost his father at age five, and lost his mother a few years before embarking on this mission at age fifteen.

The motherly care shown the orphan missionary was never forgotten. And the missionary experience of this youth among the Hawaiian people played a pivotal role in his becoming a man. He later described the early years of his youth as “a comet or a fiery meteor, without … balance or guide,” and that his mission to Hawaii “restored my equilibrium, and fixed the laws…which have governed my subsequent life.”

Little more is known of this caring Hawaiian couple, but like many other early Hawaiian converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Islands, they would have endured breaches of apostasy within the Church, and general persecution from without.

What’s more, as native Hawaiians they would have endured epidemics of disease leading to the death of much of their race, tumultuous governance, and unimaginable world change.

The fate of the husband is unknown, but we later learn that Sister Manuhii remained connected to her faith. And remarkably, more than sixty years later, this devoted sister and the young missionary she cared for were reunited on a pier in Honolulu in 1909. She called out for “Iosepa,” Joseph, and he instantly ran to her, hugging her and saying, “Mama, Mama, my dear old Mama.” The boy she had cared for was now the prophet of the Church, Joseph F. Smith; and the caring sister, now blind and frail, had brought him the best gift she could afford—a few choice bananas.

“Ma” Manuhii’s enduring faith, and her heartfelt but meager gift of bananas, are telling. Like so many others, her faith was deep and enduring. But her meager means meant that the fullness of the gospel, realized only in temples (thousands of miles away), was not a reality for her. This inaccessibility to temples, faced by “Ma” Manuhii and so many other Saints in distant lands, had been a conundrum faced by Church leaders for years, and possibly the most outspoken of those leaders was her “son” Joseph F. Smith.

Years later, “Ma” learned that her beloved “Iosepa” would again visit the Islands, and she waited for days on the steps of the mission house in Honolulu, anticipating his arrival. The prophet and his party had an exceptional visit, and it appears that prior to his departure he promised “Ma” that she would live to attend the temple.

Three months later, in the October 1915 general conference, President Joseph F. Smith proposed the construction of a temple in Hawaii, and it was unanimously approved.

Although construction advanced promptly, sadly President Joseph F. Smith did not live to see the Hawaii temple completed among a people he loved so dearly, but “Ma” did. In her nineties and among the first to attend, Ma was carried through the temple to receive her blessings and be sealed to her husband.            

While in the temple she heard the words of Joseph F. Smith tell her “aloha,” and a dove flew in through an open window and lighted on her bench. Expressing her feeling of deep contentment, Ma passed away a week later. Ma is buried near the temple, and a statue of her now resides next to the temple in honor of her, and so many others like her, whose faith laid the foundation for a temple in Hawaii.


Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith was born on Nov. 13, 1838 in Far West, Missouri, the first child of Mary Fielding and Hyrum Smith. He spent the first eight years of his life in Nauvoo, Illinois, and at the age of 5, his father and uncle, Joseph Smith Jr., were martyred. A few years later, Joseph F. and his family joined the pioneers westward, hoping to begin a new life in Salt Lake City, Utah. By age 13, his mother had also died, leaving young Joseph F. an orphan.

In the April 1854 General Conference at the age of 15, Joseph F. was called to serve as a missionary in the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. He was assigned to the island of Maui and was told to live among the people and learn their language and culture, according to the Church website. Joseph F. said of this assignment, “By this gift and by study, in a hundred days after landing upon those islands I could talk to the people in their language as I now talk to you in my native tongue.”

Joseph F.’s love for the Hawaiian people emanated throughout the islands, as he served in leadership positions in Maui, Hawaii Island, and Molokai. After serving a mission in England, he returned to Hawaii in 1864 to serve once again as a missionary.

At the age of 28, Joseph F. was ordained an Apostle and called as a counselor to the First Presidency. He served in this position for 35 years, until he was ordained as the sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 17, 1901. As the Prophet, Joseph F. watched over the Hawaiian people like a father, with the hope that the Saints in the islands would soon have their own temple. He announced the Hawaii temple in Oct. 1915, just three years before his death. 

“I want you to understand that the Hawaiian mission, and the good Latter-day Saints of that mission, with what help the Church can give, will be able to build their temple,” Joseph F. said in his announcement of the Laie Temple. “They are a tithe-paying people… We have a gathering place there where we bring people together, and teach them the best we can.”

He died on Nov. 19, 1918, one year before the dedication of the Laie Hawaii Temple.

Writer: Eric Marlowe