Semester brings Nauvoo, Church history to life

Students discover ‘spirit of Nauvoo’

When Natalie Wilde explored the caves last fall in Hannibal, Mo., she thought of Mark Twain.

When she visited Springfield, Ill., she learned of Abraham Lincoln.

And when she touched the frozen Mississippi River, or made a brick in historic Nauvoo, or studied the Doctrine and Covenants, or watched the construction of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, she came to better understand Church history and faithful Latter-day Saints of the 19th century.

Before attending BYU's semester at Nauvoo, the member of the Aspen 2nd Ward, Orem Utah Aspen Stake, thought she understood Church history.

Now she knows so much more.

"The city is so beautiful," she said. "You can walk right where the Prophet [Joseph Smith] walked and go to his house and think about things. It is all right there. It is so easy to learn, you are immersed in the Spirit."

There in the shadow of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, at the Joseph Smith Academy, she, and dozens of other BYU students, studied the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, the teachings of Joseph Smith, pioneer life skills, 19th century craftsmen skills and U.S. history.

These are just some of the many college courses offered at the academy, located across the street from the Nauvoo Temple block. Classes in American literature, humanities, art, computer science, math, human development, men and women of Nauvoo, and music (University Chorale), are also available — depending upon the qualifications of faculty and the interests of the students, said program director Larry E. Dahl, retired associate dean of Religious Education at BYU and chairman of the Church History Department.

The program began during Winter Semester 1994, when a small group of students and volunteer faculty lived in the homes that missionaries used during the busy summer months. Classes were held in the LDS Visitors Center.

BYU students visit Carthage Jail during an excursion sponsored by BYU semester at Nauvoo program. The program has been available to BYU students since 1994.
BYU students visit Carthage Jail during an excursion sponsored by BYU semester at Nauvoo program. The program has been available to BYU students since 1994. Credit: Photos by Bradley Slade, BYU Magazine

Housing for the program was made possible following the 1998 purchase by the Church of the Catholic monastery and the adjacent St. Mary's Academy building. During winter semester of 2000, students and faculty moved into the building — which contains dorms for about 120 students, faculty apartments, a full-size gymnasium, exercise room, classrooms, office, faculty office complex, library, study hall, a full-service kitchen/cafeteria operated by BYU Food Services, computer labs, recreation room and student lounges.

The facility also houses offices for Nauvoo Restoration Inc., and the Nauvoo Stake Family History Center.

When they are not attending classes in the center, or studying sites in and around Nauvoo, students also spend nine days on field study, visiting Church history sites in New York, Ohio and Missouri; they also visit Winter Quarters at Omaha, Neb.

Natalie said her four months in Nauvoo, and at other Church history sites, changed the way she views the Church. In her mind, she now sees the pioneers as real people, with real struggles. "We made bricks. We learned about their family life and farming. We learned what they did for fun," she said.

And now, after watching the construction of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, she also has an idea of what early Church members might have felt while watching the original construction. "We would stop class sometimes to go see the temple," she said. "The spirit you feel in Nauvoo is constant."

For more information about the BYU Semester at Nauvoo or the Joseph Smith Academy contact BYU Travel Studies, (801) 378-2048, or BYU Semester at Nauvoo, P.O. Box 215, Nauvoo, Ill., 62354, or call at (217) 453-2860, ext. 400. Volunteers are also needed to serve as faculty members, especially in the fields of U.S. history and English, preferably in American literature.

E-mail: [email protected]