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The ‘beautiful’ and ‘stretching’ life experiences that prepared Elder Kearon to be an Apostle

Elder Patrick Kearon and his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon, reflect on the pain of losing their son, her battle with cancer, and how those and other experiences strengthened their faith in Jesus Christ

A major test of faith for Elder Patrick Kearon and his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon, came early in their marriage when the couple’s oldest child, a son, was born with a complex congenital heart defect.

The baby boy died during heart surgery 19 days later, leaving the couple to wrestle with some difficult questions.

“I’ve always had a solid testimony of the Church and the plan of our Heavenly Father. But that was a time when I was backed up against the wall and under tremendous pressure had to face the questions — ‘Do I really believe this? Do I really believe in a Savior and a resurrection? Is his tiny grave really going to open again?’ — all those questions were put to the test,” Sister Kearon said. “And I discovered that yes, I do believe this. The gospel of Jesus Christ is real. It is my life. It IS life.”

Elder Patrick Kearon, the newest member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, is pictured in his office.
Elder Patrick Kearon, the newest member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, is pictured in his office in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

For Elder Kearon, the feeling at the time was “Can I survive this?” He remembers finding comfort and understanding in a November 2002 general conference talk titled “But if Not” by Elder Lance B. Wickman, now an emeritus general authority, who spoke about losing a son to an illness.

“He was a beautiful instrument in the hands of a loving Father in Heaven in terms of helping us come to terms with those times when we don’t get what we had pled for, what we fasted for, what we had yearned for, and that was beautiful. Of course, we had wonderful ministry from many others in that time, but for me, [Elder Wickman’s talk] was a golden expression from someone who knew.”

Elder Kearon didn’t know it at the time, but that soul-stretching experience would become one of many that helped prepare him for future Church service as a General Authority Seventy and now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Our extremity and our most exultant times seem to be the best preparations,” Elder Kearon said. “I attest to the fact that our Savior will come back and we will be healed of everything that has been a burden to us. We just have to do our part.”

Elder and Sister Kearon reflected in an interview with the Church News on some of the meaningful experiences that helped prepare him for his call on Dec. 7 as the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

‘A most beautiful experience’

Elder Kearon was first introduced to the gospel in London, England, and later while living in California. After returning to his native England, he met missionaries on the streets of London and told them, “I admire you greatly, but don’t try to convert me.”

In subsequent meetings over the next six months, the future Church leader said he “began to feel things he couldn’t otherwise explain.”

“There were a number of turning points, because there was a lot of turning that needed to happen,” Elder Kearon said.

One landmark moment in Elder Kearon’s spiritual journey came when the sisters teaching him encouraged him to have a priesthood blessing from a senior missionary.

“That was very definitely a turning point,” he said. “It was an extraordinary thing, a most beautiful experience.”

Elder Kearon was baptized on Christmas Eve 1987.

Elder Kearon met his wife, Jennifer Hulme, of Saratoga, California, two years later while she was studying in London. They were married in the Oakland California Temple on Jan. 12, 1991, and became the parents of four children — one son and three daughters.

Elder Patrick Kearon and his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon.
Elder Patrick Kearon, the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon, are pictured in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Leaving England

Elder Kearon was sustained as a General Authority Seventy on April 3, 2010.

While humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve, he was the only Latter-day Saint among his parents and siblings, and it was difficult to leave his family in England and move to Utah with his wife and children.

“It was hard for them to understand why anyone would do this when they don’t share our faith,” Elder Kearon said. “That was one of the hardest things to do, to leave them behind in England. Our girls showed remarkable faith and maturity. They left family, friends, schools, everything that was familiar.”

Service in the Europe Area presidency

From 2012 to 2017, Elder Kearon and his family lived in Frankfurt, Germany, where he served in the Church’s Europe Area presidency, an area that comprised 39 countries and 29 languages at that time.

Those years were full of constant travel and interaction with members and leaders across over 150 stakes and districts, he said, which resulted in many cherished friendships and enriching experiences.

Elder Kearon was especially touched to see the faith and devotion of Latter-day Saints.

“These were wonderful people giving of their precious time, often at the most demanding points in their lives, when their children are young, when they are working hard to provide,” he said. “Yet they were giving deeply and freely because they believe that our loving Father in Heaven has this beautiful plan for us and they wanted to help others find the same joy.”

It was during these years that Elder Kearon observed the extraordinary sweep of refugees, particularly from war-torn Syria, and the subsequent service rendered by many to help them. He spoke about the topic in general conference in April 2016.

Elder Patrick Kearon stands with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
On April 11, 2017, then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder Patrick Kearon, then a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Europe Area, visit the Frankfurt Germany Temple, which was being renovated. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The way that our people responded to that was glorious,” he said. “It was extraordinary how people gave of themselves to care for the needs of these people they had never met, some they would never meet again, some who became lifelong, and I’m sure eternal, friends.”

Those years in Germany helped Sister Kearon to appreciate how the gospel of Jesus Christ can quickly unify people from different cultures, histories, languages and backgrounds. Serving in Europe also provided growing experiences for their children.

“With each move, there was always a transition period that was difficult with tears and plenty of hard adjustments,” Sister Kearon said. “But they learned how to turn to God through that and rely on each other, how to use the spiritual tools God gives us of prayer and fasting, and the faith to get through stretching experiences. They learned beautiful lessons.”

Service in the Presidency of the Seventy

Elder Kearon and his family returned to Utah in 2017 when he was called to serve in the Presidency of the Seventy.

The Presidency of the Seventy oversees the work of the General Authority Seventies and assists the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in its work throughout the world, including traveling to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ; administering missionary, temple, family history, humanitarian and other efforts; meeting with members and missionaries; organizing Church units; and working and counseling with local Church leaders.

Serving in the Presidency of the Seventy took a little getting used to at first because it involves working as seven people instead of a presidency of three, but he treasures those years and the leaders with whom he served.

One of his assignments involved traveling to major cities across Eastern Europe. One that stood out to Sister Kearon was Istanbul, Turkey, a city of many religions and cultures existing together and “where Europe literally meets Asia,” Elder Kearon said.

They remember meeting one woman who rode a bus three hours just to attend Sunday worship services. The faith and dedication of these and other members in this part of the world inspired them.

Sister Jennifer Kearon and Elder Patrick Kearon are pictured in his office.
Sister Jennifer Kearon, left, and her husband, Elder Patrick Kearon, the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, are pictured in his office in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“They are remarkable, resilient, strong, faithful, positive, can-do, amazing individuals,” Sister Kearon said. “These Saints, who are pioneers in their countries, are giving it all.”

From 2020 until his call to the Quorum of the Twelve in December 2023, Elder Kearon served as senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy. He worked closely with and was mentored by President M. Russell Ballard, then acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and other senior Church leaders.

“The Presidency of the Seventy meets regularly with the Quorum of the Twelve, and you are ideally on the edge of your seat thinking, ‘What can I and what can the Seventy do to help assist the Quorum of the Twelve in their ministry around the world?’’’ Elder Kearon said. “To be the senior president was constantly stretching but wonderful.”

Facing cancer and relying on the Lord

While Elder Kearon was serving as senior president of the Seventy, in December 2021, Sister Kearon was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Over the next year, she endured several surgeries, as well as chemo and radiation therapy. It was a time of great adversity for the couple and their family. They found comfort in the gospel and felt support from friends, loved ones and Church leaders who were always quick to ask, “How is Jen? How can we support you?”

“They were all praying for me,” Sister Kearon said. “I felt it. I felt a marked uptick in strength, resilience and hope.”

At this point there is no detectable cancer, although Sister Kearon continues to receive defensive treatment. The Kearons expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support, care, prayers and faith of others, and for the exceptional medical care she received.

The experience of losing their son helped prepare the couple to rely on the Lord while facing cancer.

“Compared to losing our baby boy, I’ll take cancer any day. This was nothing compared to that in terms of the pain, anguish and stretching,” she said. “What I did feel was a keen sense of how my Savior knew exactly what I was feeling and what it was like to lie awake, to be in pain, to be scared, and to wonder, and to give it all up and just trust in God and in His plan for me personally.”

Some personal battles should not be faced alone, and this was one, Elder Kearon said.

“This was one of those experiences where I wanted to be private, and then letting go to the point where we did talk about it and everybody knew,” he said. “It turned into a great blessing because of the kindness, love and prayers of others. Truly overwhelming.”

Elder Patrick Kearon holds an umbrella over Sister Jennifer Kearon as they arrive at the Orem Utah Temple dedication.
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon, arrive at the Orem Utah Temple dedication in Orem, Utah, on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

What the gospel means now

Reflecting on his conversion and events that have led him to this point, Elder Kearon expressed what his testimony and the gospel of Jesus Christ mean to him today.

“It provides a completely different perspective. It contextualizes everything that happens here and gives you a very clear sense of what our experiences here are about, with all of that enveloped in God’s love, and in the love of His Son, our Savior,” he said. “It’s utterly transforming to believe what we believe. It just changes everything. This faith will transform us if we let it.”

Over years of serving with the senior leaders of the Church, Elder Kearon has observed the “constancy, steadiness and unflappable nature” of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Hard things happen, catastrophes around the world, and they feel the pain of those, but they see everything in the context of the great plan of salvation, and that is a beautiful thing to witness,” he said. “We know the final outcome. We know that Jesus Christ will return and He will bring healing and comfort. ... That is the greatest assurance when there are hard times.”

Map showing location of Carlisle, England.
Map showing location of Carlisle, England, birthplace of Elder Patrick Kearon. | Church News graphic

Biography

Family: Born July 18, 1961, in Carlisle, England, to Paddy Kearon and Patricia Wilson Kearon; married Jennifer Carole Hulme on Jan. 12, 1991, in the Oakland California Temple. Parents of four children.

Career: Until his call as a General Authority Seventy, owner with his wife of a communication consultancy.

Education: Concluded formal education in his late teens, having attended schools in Saudi Arabia and England.

Church service: Served as ward Young Men president, counselor in bishopric, branch president, stake president, Area Seventy, General Authority Seventy and senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy.

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