Missionary home gone, memories remain

Avestige from a bygone period in modern Church history was removed beginning Sept. 7 with the razing of the old Lafayette School building, the last Salt Lake City location to be used as a missionary home.

Located just north of the Church Office Building, the former elementary school was the point of departure for tens of thousands of missionaries between 1971 and 1978. It was the last building to be used as a missionary home before completion of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, where most missionaries now receive language training and other preparation before entering their fields of labor.The three-story structure, built in the 1920s, was acquired by the Church a quarter-century ago. It was remodeled for use as the Missionary Home, and since 1978, was used as an annex for the Church Office Building.

The upper floors were condemned in 1992 for structural unsoundness; only the main floor was used. The building has been vacant for the past two months.

A parking lot for Church employees will be constructed on the site.

An article in the May 26, 1973, Church News indicated about 200 missionaries each week would check in on Saturday morning for a five-day period of instruction, memorization, sacrament meeting and temple sessions. On Thursdays, the missionaries would depart for language training missions at BYU, Ricks College or Church College of Hawaii, or in the case of English-speaking missions, their fields of labor.

J. Murray Rawson, president of the Missionary Home from October 1972 to July 1975, said approximately 26,000 missionaries came through the Missionary Home while he and his two counselors served there.

Much of their time was spent interviewing missionaries and trying to solve various problems, including homesickness. Remarkably, the homesick missionaries were usually the ones who came from Salt Lake City or its vicinity, he said.

Among his most memorable experiences were the Monday sessions in the Salt Lake Temple. After an endowment session, the missionaries would gather in the Assembly Room. There, President Harold B. Lee would invite them to ask questions.

"It didn't matter what the question was, he would answer it by opening the scriptures and reading from them," recalled Brother Rawson, who is now general manager of the Church-operated Promised Valley Playhouse.

Sacrament meetings always included testimonies, and Brother Rawson remembers some of the experiences the missionaries related during those meetings. One elder, he said, was a former member of the Catholic Church. The elder noted that a nun had brought him to the Missionary Home, and said the nun was his aunt. He also said his uncle, a Catholic priest, would be paying to support him on his mission.

Another elder, Brother Rawson recalled, told of arriving at the conviction in his childhood before he was a member of the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ had visited the American continent. So certain was he that he would tell it to the girls he dated. They would refuse to see him further.

That happened until his senior year, when one young woman responded, "Oh, that's true. I can tell you all about it." He was introduced to the missionaries and subsequently joined the Church. After the elder had finished, Pres. Rawson asked him what happened to the young woman. He responded, "Oh, she married some returned missionary."

Brother Rawson said Elder LeGrand Richards of the Council of the Twelve was among General Authorities who addressed the missionaries. Elder Richards would speak each week and deliver the same talk to each new set of missionaries.

Known for his lively sermons and good-humored spontaneity, the apostle one day told Pres. Rawson, "You've heard this talk 22 times; I don't want you listening to me again, so you can go."

"I said, Elder Richards, I really ought to be here to conduct the meeting.' He said,I want you to know I can conduct a meeting.' So I left until he was finished."

With a smile, Brother Rawson remembered an occasion when Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve, and his wife Flora Benson, brought one of their grandsons to the Missionary Home to begin his mission. Elder Benson began to ascend some steps to help the grandson with his bags, when he was chided by Sister Benson. She pointed out a sign on the door at the top of the steps which read, "Missionaries only." Elder Benson told his wife he was only trying to help.

The major objective at the Missionary Home, Brother Rawson said, was to teach the missionaries how to memorize. "We had a special method of instruction that was new then."

He said as high as 95 percent of the missionaries memorized the discussions by the time they left the Missionary Home.

Another objective, he said, was to test new programs that were later put into effect at the Missionary Training Center, which was already being constructed in Provo.

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