On Saturday, April 15, 2017, members and guests of the Church gathered in Matiu Kauri Grove in Tauranga, New Zealand, to witness the dedication of a historic marker in honor of Matthew Cowley, a missionary who arrived from America at age 17 and served on the island more than 100 years ago. Elder Cowley often came to ponder, fast, pray and study the Māori language in the grove.
As a young missionary, Elder Cowley quickly developed a desire not only to learn the Māori language, but also to immerse himself in the rich local culture. These efforts produced in him a deep and abiding love for Māori whom he served tirelessly until five years later when he returned to his homeland in 1919. Matiu Kauri is the Māori name for Matthew Cowley.
Cyclone Cook had been bearing down on Tauranga Thursday and Friday prior to the monument’s dedication, but the prayers of the organisers were answered as the skies cleared Saturday.
The dedicatory event began at the Huria Marae, or meeting grounds. A senior woman in the community, Maora Reed, welcomed guests onto the marae with a traditional welcome ceremony called powhiri.
A mixed choir of Church members and marae whanau set the tone of the reverent and respectful gathering.
Thomas Tata spoke for the elders of the marae, and Elder O. Vincent Haleck, of the Seventy and president of the Pacific Area of the Church, responded and introduced Church leaders present for the event.
The historic marker, which gives a brief history of Elder Cowley’s service in New Zealand, was dedicated by Elder Haleck.
He began with the following introductory remarks: “We gather here today in these favorable conditions to seek Heavenly Father’s blessing. In his early years in New Zealand, Matiu Kauri came here often to study and learn the Māori language, meditate and commune with Heavenly Father. It was the peaceful surroundings of this grove that blessed and helped give voice to his Māori language and love for the Māori people. We are honoured that the City Council and leaders of this community have chosen to name this grove the Matiu Kauri Grove.”
Elder Haleck then offered the dedicatory prayer: “Heavenly Father, it is in the Spirit of reverence, thanksgiving and remembrance that we come to thee this morning and I now dedicate this marker with the name of the Matiu Kauri Grove inscribed upon it. May the Matiu Kauri Grove continue to be a place of peace and tranquility; that those who will visit here will feel of its special environment and find enjoyment in their visit. Bless the land of this grove and its trees and plants of all kinds, protect them from the forces of severe weather and storms. Bless the plants and trees to continue in their natural growth cycles and continue to beautify and renew themselves season to season in the life cycles thou hast given them. Let all those who visit here see of the beauty of this grove and feel of its special spirit as thy servant Matiu Kauri did. He was drawn here because its surroundings brought his spirit close to thee. Preserve this grove for the enjoyment of thy children who have come in generations past and those yet to come in the future. Let all who come find the peace and sweet spirit that Matiu Kauri experienced. To this end I bless this grove now named the Matiu Kauri Grove, through the authority and power of thy Holy Priesthood and in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Elder Haleck also expressed gratitude for all who have served as missionaries in New Zealand and the South Pacific over many years.
The official party at Saturday’s dedication service included the Deputy Mayor of Tauranga, Kelvin Clout; Church Historian, Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy, and his wife, Phyllis Snow; Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy and first counselor in the Pacific Area Presidency, and his wife, Wendy Nielsen; Elder David J. Thomson, Area Seventy, and his wife, Sue Thomson; Reid Neilson, managing director of the Church History Department; and Francis Fitzpatrick, president of the Church’s Tauranga New Zealand Stake, and his wife, Megan Fitzpatrick. Elder Haleck was accompanied by his wife, Peggy Haleck.
Elder Nielsen suggested that “this weekend was one of miracles. Because of Cyclone Cook, it was supposed to be a weekend of terrible weather, but look at it, the sun is shining. That is appropriate as we celebrate the missionary work and priesthood service of a man of miracles, Matthew Cowley.”
Deputy Mayor Clout explained that when the City of Tauranga received the proposal to rename the park it sought comment from the public. He said that widespread support was expressed by the Huria Marae and Church members, so the proposal to rename the park was approved.
In 1938 Matthew Cowley returned to New Zealand, again on assignment from the Church. This time he served as mission president until 1945 when he was called back to the United States and was ordained an Apostle that same year. It was Matthew Cowley — working with Stuart Meha and Wiremu Duncan — who translated and revised Māori editions of scripture. Indeed, his influence was and continues to be far reaching in its scope.
Many of the families of those who attended the dedicatory service on Saturday had been personally touched, and served, by this highly revered missionary. The name, Matthew Cowley, appears on many documented certificates where he was involved in blessing individuals, and his influence in the spiritual progression of Latter-day Saints in the region is highly valued and acknowledged today.
President Fitzpatrick recently learned that Matthew Cowley had performed the marriage ceremony of his wife’s grandparents in Auckland in 1938.