'This has been a banner year'

BELMONT, Mass. — Humbly dressed in his blue blazer — a man of simple means — 82-year-old Raul Dejesus and his wife, Gertrude, awaited their opportunity to enter the Boston Massachusetts Temple on the morning of the dedication. They stood quietly huddled together, keeping mostly to themselves, their hearts too full to speak.

"I intend to spend the rest of my life in the temple," he said.

They were not alone in expressing gratitude.

"We're just happy for the presence of this wonderful building," President Gordon B. Hinckley said on the eve of the dedication. "It is magnificent and beautiful. We're grateful it is standing. It is a house of the Lord."

The dedication of the Boston Massachusetts Temple Oct. 1 marks the 100th operating temple of the Church. In one brief, but intense, three-year period — since the dedication of the St. Louis Missouri Temple in June 1997 as the Church's 50th temple — the Church has dedicated the same number of temples as were dedicated in the past 151 years since the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple in 1846.

"This has been a banner year," President Hinckley said, referring to the 32 temples that have been dedicated this year. By the end of the year 2000, it will be 103 temples. "This is a milestone in Church history," he continued.

The historical and spiritual significance of dedicating the 100th temple in the Boston area was not lost on the nearly 68,000 members who comprise the temple district. Here, Puritans with their love of God and ethic for work settled. Here "the shot heard 'round the world" began a revolution that created the land where the gospel was restored. And nearly half of Brigham Young's vanguard pioneer company stemmed from New England, as well as 59 of the Church's early leaders.

"When I presented tickets to Brother and Sister Dejesus for the dedication, the tears flowed," said Bishop Jason Soulier of their Boston 2nd Ward, Boston Massachusetts Stake. "They embody the influence the temple can have on the lives of people."

Brother Dejesus has participated in every ward and stake temple excursion to the Washington D.C. Temple since he immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s from the Philippines, said Bishop Soulier. "That's probably 20 to 30 excursions. They traveled 10 hours each way. Stayed up late performing ordinance work during the night and arose early the next morning to begin again."

A couple with deep desires to serve God and country, Brother Dejesus is known for sweeping the street in front of his modest apartment in the south of Boston each morning. "He's always serving like this," said Bishop Soulier.

Gather for dedication

Members began gathering at the temple site before dawn, even as a frosty mist hung over a nearby cornfield. Lines of members strung around the many trees on the grounds. Those gathered on the southeast patio of the temple gazed across a carpet of green that extended uninterrupted to the horizon. Rich blue skies and pleasant autumn temperatures matched an air of enthusiasm and anticipation.

To maintain the peacefulness of the neighborhood, Church members were requested to park at one of several pre-arranged parking lots several miles away where they were shuttled to the temple.

By the conclusion of the four dedicatory sessions, 80 bus loads had shuttled nearly 17,000 members to the temple, as well as to several other Church meetinghouse sites where proceedings were broadcast.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, who presided over the dedication, emerged from the temple shortly after the beginning of the first session to lead an entourage including President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy and the Boston temple presidency, as well as their wives, to seal the cornerstone.

"What a magnificent choir," President Hinckley said, looking across the elegant entrance of the temple to a 230-voice youth choir. President Hinckley shared his appreciation for the temple to a throng of people gathered around the southeast corner of the temple.

Time for a temple

"It's time we had a temple in Boston," declared President Hinckley during the press conference the evening prior to the dedication. "We're so glad it's here. We wish the steeple were on it. I regret that it isn't. But we can get along without it while awaiting the outcome of the legal action. In the meantime, we'll go forward performing the ordinance work of this sacred house."

A legal dispute with a coalition of several neighbors over the construction of the temple has slogged through the courts for four years. In the latest ruling, a state judge banned the construction of a steeple. The Church is appealing the ruling.

"I'm disappointed," President Hinckley said, referring to the steeple during the press conference. "But I'm not upset. I would have loved to have seen this building with that steeple in all it's architectural beauty."

President Hinckley went on to say that the Church is acquainted with opposition. "We regret that some feel offended by what we've done. We're sorry about that. I don't think it's going to prove to be an offensive thing."

He then related an incident where a lady contested the construction of the Orlando Florida Temple, but after attending the open house, "begged our pardon and . . . the next day sent a great bouquet of flowers."

Being a good neighbor

"The Church is deeply committed to being a good neighbor," said Grant Bennett, second counselor in the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake presidency who was appointed to be the "lightning rod" during the heated public hearings when neighbors became agitated over distorted information distributed by temple opponents about the Church.

"Our attitude was to do more than was requested. We'd listen to the extreme claims that were made during public hearings then ask what more we could do."

As a result, a sound-proofing box was constructed and hoisted by crane over the jackhammer as the granite was drilled for the temple's footings. Extra plates were embedded to shore up the rock ledge that faces the highway on which the temple is built.

An elaborate system of drains and pipes was built underground to collect the runoff and release it into the town's system at a calculated rate.

Trees were planted around the perimeter to block light from shining into neighboring windows. Light around the perimeter of the temple property is now less than the light in an aisle in a movie theater.

To minimize dust, a water truck constantly traversed the site wetting the ground, and large earth berms were created to block the wind from carrying dust in neighboring yards. Construction trucks were washed before leaving the site to prevent the scattering of rocks and debris on public streets.

During the public hearing process, when residents were skeptical about information offered by the Church, independent contractors or consultants were paid by the Church to gather their own information. Such a study was made at three temples to calm concerns about traffic congestion.

Resistance to the temple quickly diminished once neighbors were able to voice their concerns and receive a complete answer, Brother Bennett said. "The overwhelming majority of those who once opposed the temple are now supportive."

Some are acrimonious that the lawsuit prevents the construction of the steeple, added a former stake president in central Massachusetts. "Many want the steeple to be built, including Sisters from a Catholic Church, who said they are praying for the steeple."

"If only you had told us how beautiful this was going to be, we wouldn't have fought it," said one neighbor following his open house tour.

In the process of trying to discredit the Church, opponents actually generated feelings of affection and affinity for the Church, Brother Bennett believes. Judging by ticket reservations, more than 80 percent of Belmont residents attended the monthlong open house in September. A total of 82,600 attended.

Temple cannot be hid

Yet, despite the dispute, a temple set on a hill cannot be hid — especially a temple set so prominently with sweeping views of greater Boston.

Towering over Route 2 about 25 miles west of Boston, the temple is built on a thick layer of granite that extends at least a mile in each direction along the highway. It stands as a centerpiece on a hill that is highly visible to motorists traveling from the Cambridge area through Belmont and Waltham.

"They've taken a rock and turned it into a striking garden," said selectman Bill Monahan, who serves as chairman of a three-man governing board in Belmont. "The grounds are so attractive."

Mr. Monahan knows firsthand the "ruckus" raised by the several Belmont residents. The selectman council often came under fire when they defended the rights of the Church, or when they refused to respond as opponents desired.

"I can't identify the motives [of the opponents]," he said, "but I think the Church and its members did everything possible to get along."

Temple harmony

The temple facade is made of Olympia white granite out of Italy. "I thought the stone work on this temple was going to take 40 years to complete like the Salt Lake Temple," said Peter White of the local architectural firm. "The challenge of using granite stone in this manner is like trying to make a boat out of brick. Granite is a heavy material, yet here it is meant to look light and lofty. But it works."

The lines of the temple lift the perspective upward, he explained. "There is a sense of soaring and reaching."

Recurring theme

"Bostonians are not easily impressed," said Kent Bowen, co-chair of the local organizing committee and professor of business at Harvard University. "The intellectual community can be skeptical and cynical." But following the open house, "they spoke in superlatives." Their interest, he said, was not in the building, but in the peace they felt.

Home to 150 universities and the headquarters of many international businesses, and the center of transcendental thinking shaped by Emerson and Thoreau, Boston has distinguished itself as an educated community.

At least 30 university presidents toured the temple during the open house. "One university president was awed by the beauty of the temple," Brother Bowen said. "At the end of the tour, we sat in the Celestial Room for a while before going to a sealing room. There we spoke of the temple. When it came time to leave, the president didn't move. After a long while, he shook his finger at me and said, "Do you know what you have here? This is the most peaceful place I've ever been. I've visited all the religious places around the world, and this is the most peaceful."

"I saw perfection. The more critically I looked, the more perfection I found," wrote one professor in a letter of appreciation after the open house.

It was a recurring theme: people feeling peace, continued Brother Bowen.

At one point, said Brother Bowen, the bus drivers said the people often grumbled about boarding a bus without air conditioning on hot days and being shuttled to the temple for open house tours.

But after the tours, the bus drivers noticed a marked difference in the attitude of the people as they returned happy and peaceful from the temple, continued Brother Bowen,

"The drivers soon wanted to know the reason for such a change and requested their tour," he said.

Goodwill from disaster

Particularly satisfying to local Church leaders was the widespread, even enthusiastic, support offered by various denominations for the temple. When discussions were heated and misunderstanding rampant among the Belmont residents, it was the clergy of many congregations who showed support for the temple by writing letters to the editors of newspapers and speaking to their congregations.

One minister called Brother Bennett to say that the Church was being too patient. 'But I've had it,' " he said, expressing his frustration for the way the Church was being treated.

The minister then invited several Church leaders to speak to his congregation the following Sunday. The minister's choir sang LDS hymns, and at the conclusion of the meeting, he urged his members to be supportive and promote the temple cause.

The goodwill enjoyed among the various religions stems, in part, from one of the most disappointing times for the Church in New England.

In the summer of 1984, when the new Belmont Chapel was nearing completion, fire destroyed the chapel, buckling the copper-clad steeple which had been set into position. No cause was ever pinpointed but fire officials viewed the fire as "suspicious."

With flames shooting 50- to 60-feet into the air, "it looked like Dresden during World War II," said one firefighter.

"I don't know when I've felt lower," said Brother Bowen, who had served as bishop. "So much had gone into that building."

The religious community of Belmont responded with an outpouring of love and concern. Within days of the fire, Bishop Mitt Romney received offers from at least eight denominations to use their facilities. Some offered to help raise funds for another meetinghouse.

"We met as a bishopric," said Brother Romney as he stood in line prior to the dedication, "and decided to meet with those churches with facilities large enough for our congregation."

During the next nine months of construction, Bishop Romney's ward met in the St. Joseph Catholic school, the Protestant Armenian Church, and the Plymouth Congregational Church. "While it would have been far more convenient to use just one building, we decided to use every building where facilities where sufficient for our needs," Brother Romney said.

It was difficult to adapt the meetings to these non-LDS facilities, but it became a means of befriending congregations. A non-LDS spouse observed that the fire changed the attitude of the townspeople toward the Mormons.

In appreciation for the use of their facilities, five families were assigned each Monday morning to clean the building after Sunday's meetings. "We wanted to be guests they would not forget," Brother Romney said. Although costly and inconvenient, the disaster increased community awareness and fostered feelings of love and concern.

The influence of the Boston temple can be measured on a grand scale of bringing peace to many in the community. It can also be measure on an individual basis, like the non-LDS husband in the celestial room who reflected on his life while carefully hanging the hundreds of crystal pieces on the chandelier and pondering the worthiness of his life for the temple.

"The Lord worked many miracles in the celestial room," said Elder Hyde M. Merrill, Area Authority Seventy.

Prepared for lofty purpose

The property where the Belmont Chapel and the temple were built was discovered in the latter 1970s at a time when land was being acquired to build a meetinghouse in Belmont.

"One afternoon, a member of the Church became lost on Belmont Hill while looking for property," said Brother Kent Bowen, bishop of the Cambridge Ward at the time. "But noticing a sign on a tree in a field, she stopped and recorded the telephone number, even though there was no mention of selling the land.

"The owner was willing to sell, and after enormous sacrifices by the members to raise money, sacrifices that united the members," said Brother Bowen," the Church bought the 17-acre parcel of land and began building a meetinghouse in a corner of the property."

The interesting thing, added Mitt Romney, who served in the mid-1980s as bishop during the construction of the Belmont Chapel, was that the meetinghouse was built on the lower level of the land. Typically, a meetinghouse would be built on the highest elevation, such as several other churches in the area. As it is, the meetinghouse is obscured by the top of Belmont Hill.

The upper level seemed hallowed and an ideal spot for something loftier, continued Brother Romney, explaining why the lower level was chosen.

When President Gordon B. Hinckley met with a group of stake presidents in April 1995 and expressed his frustration at not finding a site suitable for a temple in New England, President Kenneth Hutchins of the Boston stake spoke of a beautiful spot on Belmont Hill that he believed was still owned by the Church.

Later that evening after visiting the site, President Hinckley wrote in his journal, "As I stood there I had an electric feeling that this is the place. The Lord inspired its acquisition and its retention. Very few seemed to know anything about it. I think I know why I have had such a very difficult time determining the [site]. I have prayed about it. I have come here three or four times. I have studied maps and tables of membership. With all of this I have not had a strong confirmation. I felt a confirmation as I stood in Belmont on this property this afternoon. This is the place for a House of the Lord in the New England area."

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