How Elder Davies and Elder Sikahema helped secure the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple site

In his work prior to the call to the Presiding Bishopric and as a General Authority Seventy, Elder Dean M. Davies helped identify and acquire sites for temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — one of which was the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple

During a Brigham Young University campus devotional in November 2015, Elder Davies described how the Church successfully secured the temple site after all seemed lost. 

Soon after President Thomas S. Monson announced in October 2008 that a temple would be built in Philadelphia, Elder Davies and others went to work researching possible sites where it could be built. Two sites ultimately emerged. 

With the approval of the First Presidency, and after some preliminary due diligence, the process of acquiring the properties began. Remarkably, the owner of the first site accepted the Church’s offer without negotiation. 

“However,” Elder Davies told the BYU audience, “you probably already know that when it comes to building the kingdom of God — and especially when it comes to building temples — things often don’t go as smoothly as we would hope.”

Bishop Dean M. Davies and his wife, Sister Darla Davies
Bishop Dean M. Davies and his wife, Sister Darla Davies Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Shortly after the paperwork was filed, the city of Philadelphia, through a city-controlled agency, filed a legal claim that stopped the transaction. After doing everything they could to meet with the agency and remove the claim, the Church took their appeal of last resort to the mayor.

Elder Davies flew to Philadelphia with the Church temple architect and was joined by an Area Seventy and two local Church members — one of which was Vaiangina (Vai) Sikahema, a former National Football League player, sports broadcaster and well-known figure in Philadelphia.  

Once the meeting with the mayor began, Elder Davies said the atmosphere in the room felt “more than a little cold.” It appeared as though the decision had already been made. The mayor explained that his staff had assured him this property was better suited for commercial purposes. 

“I remember that the mayor glanced at his watch more than a few times,” recalled Elder Via Sikahema, who was recently sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April 2021 general conference. “And at some point, there was a lull in the meeting.”

Pleading in his heart for heavenly help, Elder Davies had asked the mayor if the architect could show a rendering of how the temple might look. 

As the architect started to unzip his bag, Elder Sikahema told the Church News, “I had the strong impression that I should raise my hand and tell the mayor what happened to me and my family with the temple.”

He said something like: “Mr. Mayor, many years ago when I was a young boy in Tonga, my father and mother and my brothers and sisters sold our home, we sold fruits and vegetables, and we sold everything we could to have enough money to travel to Hamilton, New Zealand, to be sealed as an eternal family in the temple. You need this temple. This temple will bless your city. This temple will bless your community. It will bless the people.”

Vai Sikahema, with his wife, Keala, in front of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple that opened in September 2016.
Vai Sikahema, with his wife, Keala, in front of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple that opened in September 2016. Credit: Rick Loomis, for the Deseret News

He sat down and everyone was quiet. After a few moments, the Church architect showed the mayor a few renderings of the temple. Something had changed, and the Spirit had come into the meeting, Elder Davies said. “It was a sacred moment.” 

The mayor began to ask questions. A nonmember city councilman spoke of how the temple would bless the city and community. The 30-minute meeting lasted an hour and a half. 

At the end of the meeting, the mayor asked if Elder Davies would offer a prayer. “I remember that Dean Davies got up and he blessed the mayor and his family,” Elder Sikahema recalled with emotion in his voice. “He blessed the mayor’s staff and associates. He blessed the city of Philadelphia. He blessed its citizens … and it was just a really powerful prayer.”

The mayor’s heart had changed. Though Elder Sikahema didn’t know it at the time, the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple would go forward and be built on the selected site. 

About a year prior to its dedication in 2016, as the temple was under construction, Elder Davies invited Elder Sikahema to his BYU devotional where he described this experience. “He downplayed the role he had and lifted mine,” Elder Sikahema said.

“And I’m just grateful for Dean … for the amazing role that he had in helping us secure the temple for the Saints in that area. He’s just the most generous and most kind, most wonderful friend.” 

Elder Davies died Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, at age 69 after battling cancer. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 11:00 a.m. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel located at 900 Eaglepointe Dr, North Salt Lake, UT 84054.

Services will be streamed live at http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/broadcasts/languages/elder-dean-davies-funeral/2021/09