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‘What a celestial woman looks like’: Sister Patricia T. Holland is remembered for her faith, testimony, loving heart and example

President Nelson calls Sister Holland ‘an elect lady’ who lived a celestial life; Elder Holland says she was the greatest woman he has ever known

During a funeral service on a warm summer day, family, friends and Latter-day Saints around the world remembered Sister Patricia Terry Holland — the wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a former counselor in the Young Women general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — for her faith, testimony and dedication to her husband and children and to the Savior and His Church. 

“Sister Patricia Holland is exactly what a celestial woman looks like,” said President Russell M. Nelson. “We weep today for the passing of one so beloved by her family — and that family is the whole population of the world, really. However, we rejoice because of the celestial life she lived.”

Sister Holland died Thursday, July 20, at the age of 81. Born Feb. 16, 1942, in Enterprise, Utah, to Maeser W. and Marilla Terry, Sister Holland is the mother of three, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of five.

Thousands gathered on Friday, July 28, 2023, in the Conference Center Theater and in overflow locations in downtown Salt Lake City for the funeral, which was also broadcast via livestream on ChurchofJesusChrist.org. The funeral was attended by members of the Church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as well as other general authorities and officers. 

President Nelson was the final speaker during the services that also included memories from Sister Holland’s children — Elder Matthew S. Holland, a General Authority Seventy; Mary Alice Holland McCann; and David F. Holland. Elder Ulysse G. McCann, an Area Seventy and Sister Holland’s son-in-law, performed a piano medley. Daughters-in-law Jeanne H. Holland and Paige Holland offered the opening and closing prayers, respectively, and Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and Utah Area president, conducted the service. 

And although “the circumstances of his own health and emotions” prevented Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from standing to make an “extended tribute to his beloved companion,” Elder Matthew S. Holland read a few words written by his father.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is helped by his son Elder Matthew S. Holland after Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral service at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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A tribute to his companion

Calling Sister Holland “the greatest woman I have ever known,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said he is heartbroken by her loss yet sustained by the power of prayers of so many. “I thought the onset of neuropathy and dialysis was enough, but this loss of Pat so unexpectedly has been devastating,” he said.

Sister Holland was a great teacher, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland wrote. “Among her most resonant messages was that when your back is to the wall and your heart is breaking, you still have three things: your friends, your family, your faith.”

Her friends are found all over the earth, he said. “That is possible only because she made friends instantly. When you shook her hand or said hello you had her full attention. She took seriously the Savior’s example of recognizing the image of God in everyone she met.”

Her family meant everything to her, he continued. “She was a loving daughter, a feisty sister and an unequaled mother — I mean absolutely unequaled, except perhaps by her own mother and mine. Her children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren were priceless to her. And I was at least allowed to tag along. … At every stop she made our home a refuge — a place of music, laughter, and love. I did not know a person could do so much with so little. She was everything a companion could be in this world, and I thank God that we will have each other in the next.”

Of her faith, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland wrote that he is almost speechless. Her faith was “the kind rooted in the goodness of Jesus Christ, refined and tempered in the furnace of life’s afflictions. She loved and believed in her Heavenly Father and Savior in a way that exceeded her love even for me.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said his wife’s remarkable relationship with heaven did not come without effort. “She prayed all the time about everything. Her scriptures were in her hands constantly, especially the Book of Mormon. She would have lived in the temple if she could have, so she made a temple of the home in which we lived. She was as loyal to her covenants and her Heavenly Father as any woman could possibly be.”

Closing, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland testified “that Jesus Christ lives, and that because of His atoning victory with its attending sealing power, there is no end to the love that Pat and I have shared, a love that has made our home feel like heaven and will someday make heaven feel like home.”

President Russell M. Nelson speaks during Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral service at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

‘Her future is glorious’

During his remarks, President Nelson called Sister Holland an elect lady. “She occupies a unique position in our Latter-day Saint history. Very few women in this dispensation have been married to a prophet, seer, and revelator, and served as a general officer of the Church.

“Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow are two such women, and Sister Holland is certainly in that esteemed circle,” he said. “She also served as the first lady of Brigham Young University while her husband … presided there. Sister Holland thus occupies a most unique position in the annals of the Church’s history. Her remarkable influence upon literally millions of women and men cannot be overestimated.”

President Nelson detailed three steps necessary to qualify for eternal life:

“At our birth, our spirits were clothed with a mortal body,” he said. “That miraculous gift is the first step toward our gaining an immortal body and qualifying for eternal life.”

The second step “is receiving sacred ordinances that allow us to make covenants with God, and keeping those covenants.

The third step, he continued, is death. 

“Death is a gateway along the path of eternal progress,” President Nelson explained. “Though hard for those of us left behind, we know that Sister Holland’s resurrection is certain and eternal life lies ahead. Death is both a necessity and a blessing. God’s great plan of happiness requires that each of us pass through that gateway. Sister Holland’s righteous spirit is now born again into the paradise of God. She continues on her path to eternal life.”

President Nelson assured the congregation that, in time, Elder and Sister Holland would be reunited. “They will later be joined by their beautiful children and their covenant-keeping posterity to experience the fulness of joy that God has in store for His faithful children.”

Knowing that, he continued, the most important date in Sister Holland’s life was not her birthday or her death date. “Her most important date was June 7, 1963, when she and Jeff were sealed in the St. George Temple. This ordinance sealed them together forever. They have been completely faithful to their promises to each other and to Heavenly Father. Their children were born in that covenant and have remained totally faithful to that covenant. Why is all this so important? Because the very reason the earth was created was so families could be formed and sealed to each other. Salvation is an individual matter, but exaltation is a family matter. No one can be exalted alone.”

President Nelson said because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and because of Sister Holland’s life as a devout covenant-keeping woman, “her future is glorious.” 

“Under God’s great plan of happiness, she can be perfected in Christ.” 

Sister Holland “will regain the union of her body and her spirit, the vigor of her youth, and achieve her full radiance of celestial glory in her perfected state.”

One day, said President Nelson, “each of us, if worthy, shall again see the glorified, redeemed, exalted, and perfected Patricia Terry Holland, wife, mother, sister, Saint, and daughter of the living God.”

The First Presidency attends Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral at the Conference Center Theater.
President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, attend Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral service at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

‘We follow her lead’

Elder Matthew S. Holland said it is impossible to think about his mother without thinking about her love of the Lord and His holy word. “Even as I say this, a flood of images come to mind of my mom with her scriptures, whether that be in a quiet, contemplative, light-filled nook she created in every home we ever lived in or carrying them in her purse to teach and testify from them all around the globe.”

He said, however, the most searing image of her love of the scriptures is one Sister Holland described in a sacred moment at the 2018 Seminar for New Mission Leaders.

With Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, she was jointly teaching about the preeminent power of the Book of Mormon to bring people to Jesus Christ. As she closed, she referenced a moment back in 2015 when she was battling a lung condition that had her on the brink of death. 

“While clutching her personal copy of the Book of Mormon tightly to her chest, she said to a rapt audience: ‘I leave with you my testimony of this wonderful book. Recently, during a near-fatal illness, I wanted Jeff and his priesthood to be with me constantly. Because he couldn’t always be at my side, I wanted the next best thing. I wanted my Book of Mormon in my hands, holding it. And when I slept, I wanted it under my pillow. With doctors telling us that I wasn’t going to make it, that they had done everything they could, and that we should call our children, I knew if I did live it would be because of the blessings and the truths that I’ve studied so many times in this gospel that the Book of Mormon teaches. If Nephi could raise his brother from the dead, I knew that God could raise me as well — and He did, by the same apostolic faith and authority that ancient Nephite prophet had. I bear witness to you, presidents and sisters, that this book has given me life over and over again since I first read it as a young woman. It has given Jeff and me and our children a blueprint and a power to live peacefully, calmly and patiently, with the brightness of the sun lighting the way, even the brightness of the Son of God.’”

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Elder Matthew S. Holland then questioned: “So, what do we do now? We follow her lead,” he answered. “It is time to trust, as she always trusted, in the goodness and the timing of God, and turn, as she always turned, to the power and direction of His word.”  

Daughter Mary Holland McCann said her mother had a gift for teaching her children the gospel. “Part of that gift was that when we were hurting and reached for her, she comforted us and then led us to the Savior while she gently stepped out of the way so that we could find our comfort in Him.”

Recalling a particularly hard 7th-grade day, she spoke of crying and praying with her mother. “Whenever I look back on this experience, I am always so touched by her desire to lead me to faith,” she said. “It seems really remarkable to me that she would take the bad day of a seventh grader seriously enough to make it a memorable spiritual experience. But what is even more remarkable, is that it wasn’t at all remarkable at the time. That was a scene (similar to many others) that played over and over and over with my brothers and me throughout our lives.”

In the Holland home, she said, “the gospel was the air we breathed.”

“It was impossible to unwind my mother from the gospel of Jesus Christ. She earned her faith. She earned it through effort and tribulation, and she lived it in a way that made it impossible for her children not to believe,” McCann said.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral service at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

McCann said the combination of her mother’s faith and love allowed her children to glimpse the Savior’s love. “Perhaps the most painful part of losing her this week is realizing that the one person on this earth who loved me first and loved me longest and loved me most is gone. But she has left me with a greater gift: the knowledge that there is One in Heaven who loves me even more.”

Son David F. Holland said that although his mother’s life of discipleship “often called her to the pulpit, and although she preached with eloquence and power in every corner of the globe,” she did not enjoy public speaking. “I can see her empathetic smile now — and perhaps even a knowingly teasing twinkle in her eye — for those of us that today have to step to this microphone and take on the impossible task of finding adequate words for a life of inexpressible goodness.”

He said he and his siblings were “nurtured at the feet of a disciple of Christ who taught us from our earliest memories to recognize God as our Father and our friend, a being worthy of our complete trust and deserving of our deepest devotions and in whose service we would find the bone and marrow of a meaningful life.”

The joy Sister Holland radiated derived in good measure from her marriage, David F. Holland said. “The affection, admiration and fierce devotion that she and my father shared for one another elevated each of them, and in unison they took on the world for the sake of its blessing and benefit.”

He recalled a dark time in his own life and a vivid dream his wife, Jeanne Holland, had. As the storm waves crashed upon her in the dream, she saw her mother-in-law beside her. “Keep your head up. Don’t be afraid. These waves will pass, and they will not overwhelm you,” said Sister Holland in the dream.

“The dream derived its poignancy and meaning from a number of truths about my mom. Her assurance that the waves would not win was meaningful precisely because she was not naïve about their reality or their force. She spoke with the authority of experience. She knew the sea really did rage and the tide really could rise, but she also knew of our covenant to the Christ who had control of the tempest. And that battle-tested testimony of the gospel’s sure promise not only gave her the power to prevail but imparted to her words the strength to sustain those around her.”

David F. Holland speaks during the funeral service of his mother, Sister Patricia T. Holland, at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral service at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during the funeral service for Sister Patricia T. Holland at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson speaks at Sister Patricia T. Holland’s funeral.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during the funeral service for Sister Patricia T. Holland at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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