"I Will Hasten My Work in Its Time": Mexico School Becomes an MTC

By Barbara E. Morgan

Barbara E. Morgan (barbara_morgan@byu.edu) is an assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

 

On January 29, 2013, forty-nine years after the Church’s high school in Mexico City was in operation for forty-nine years, Elder Dan Johnson, the Mexico Area President, said the school would become a Missionary Training Center following graduation in June. To the emotional students and faculty, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gently taught, “Tears are the price we pay for love.” He asked, “Do you believe God knows everything?” and then answered, “I do too.” Continuing, he asked the students if God knew when ground was broken nearly half a century earlier that “this day would also come.” To which he answered:

 

He did. Of course he did. And in fact, that day may have been done and that school started in order that this day could come. Because we need an MTC immediately, we need it now. And if we started to build one tomorrow it would take us three years, and millions of dollars. . . . I believe God knew this day would come the day we broke ground for this school. . . . This is a dramatic moment in Church history. You have lived to see your role in one of the most historic moments in the Church.[1]

 

In 1958, David O. McKay, after receiving requests from Church leaders and members in Mexico to start schools for the Mexican members, assigned a committee under the direction of Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve to propose how to best meet the education needs of the Saints in Mexico.[2] Based on their report, President McKay and the Church Board of Education began taking action.[3] Within five years, nearly thirty elementary schools were in operation throughout Mexico, along with a secondary school in Mexico City, known first as “El Arbolillo” and now as Benemérito de las Américas.[4]

In the groundbreaking ceremony for “El Arbolillo” held on November 4, 1963, Elder Romney prophesied:

 

This school for which we are breaking ground today is destined to become a great Spanish-speaking cultural center. Its influence will reach far beyond the valley of Mexico. . . . It will be felt in all of Latin America, including South America. Hundreds of thousands of people will come here. Going out from here, they will help the Nation build up its education, its culture and its spirituality. This school will prepare men for a better future here on the earth, and for eternal life in the world to come. . . . Those who attend will learn of the pre-earth life and of principles and practices which will prepare them for the life to come.[5]

 

In February 1964, only three months after the groundbreaking, 125 students began attending school in one large building.[6] The majority of students came from poor backgrounds—many never having used a fork, a bathroom, or even slept in a bed.[7] Students were assigned to live with foster parents in small homes on campus; they increased in their knowledge of the gospel and learned leadership as they attended seminary and student wards. They also learned to become self-reliant as they worked to pay for their education. Nearly 25,000 students have attended Benemérito.[8] Among the alumni are teachers, actors, lawyers, attorneys, doctors, and senators, as well as missionaries, mothers, Relief Society leaders, fathers, bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, temple presidents, and General Authorities.[9] Of the current stake presidents serving throughout Mexico, approximately 25 percent are Benemérito alumni, and since 2008, nearly 90 percent of all male graduates have served or are currently serving full-time missions.[10]

When asked what the school had done for him, Alfredo Mirón, an alumnus and the final director of Benemérito, responded, “I came from a poor family, with parents who were not active. I now have a wife whom I met at Benemérito. We have five children, all who attended Benemérito, and are now all married in the temple and raising their own families. I worked for the Church Educational System for years, have served as a bishop, a stake president, a mission president, and the director of Benemérito. All of this is possible because of Benemérito.”[11] Alfredo Mirón was sustained as an Area Seventy in the April 2013 general conference.[12]

The school’s substantial accomplishments may suggest that Elder Romney’s prophecy had been fulfilled. However, he spoke of hundreds of thousands coming, which at the current rate would take many centuries were it not for Thomas S. Monson’s October 2012 announcement reducing the age of missionaries worldwide. Soon after the announcement, Church educational leaders, trying to support the Missionary Department, pondered how they could provide needed facilities to house and train this substantial increasing number of missionaries. When one member of this group suggested the possibility of converting Benemérito into an MTC, those present felt a powerful witness that this was the course to pursue.[13] With the approval of Elder Russell M. Nelson, who oversees the Church Educational System and the Missionary Executive Committee, the proposal was approved by the Church Board of Education, the Missionary Department, and the First Presidency. Only three months later, Elders Nelson and Holland joined other General Authorities in Mexico City to make the momentous announcement.[14]

Most people associated with Benemérito expressed gratitude to the Lord for having had the opportunity to attend the school and for the blessings they have received as a result of it, but at the groundbreaking ceremony Elder Romney had petitioned the Lord to “bless the Mexican people; that they may come to an understanding of the real purpose of this institution.[15] As many associated with Benemérito acknowledge, this school is not actually closing; it is merely graduating and maturing to become what the Lord intended for it to be. At the meeting announcing its closure, Elder Holland invited everyone in attendance to memorize D&C 88:73, which says in part, “Behold, I will hasten my work in its time.” Now, rather than having 600 graduates a year, Benemérito campus will be graduating approximately 1,200 missionaries a month who will be serving people beyond the borders of Mexico and throughout Latin America, including the United States.[16] The full scope of Elder Romney’s prophecy will be fulfilled in a greatly accelerated timetable.

On June 14, 2013, Benemérito graduated its last group of students. As part of the graduation ceremony, Alfredo Mirón, the school’s last director, symbolically presented the “campus key” to the new mission president, Carl B. Pratt, who with great emotion accepted this gift. On June 26, the Missionary Training Center of Mexico City, the second largest in the world, opened its doors to the first nearly one hundred missionaries. Among the set-apart missionaries President Pratt welcomed to the new Missionary Training Center that day were students who had graduated only ten days previously from the same campus. “I cannot believe it’s only been ten days since I graduated from this school,” one elder expressed as he was entering the new MTC. “It’s quite a special experience to be able to see the way in which the Lord transforms things in order to fulfill his work. I can see now,” he continued, “how this campus as a Missionary Training Center will be used to bless even more people than it already has. It’s worth every sacrifice. This is going to be an incredible work and I’m looking forward to being able to serve the Lord as soon as I can.” 

 On July 3 nearly one hundred English speaking North American missionaries arrived to be trained in the Spanish language and experience the Mexican culture in preparation for their calls to serve primarily in the United States. This Missionary Training Center will continue to receive more missionaries on a weekly basis until it has reached full capacity.  There they would continue their prophesied purpose of preparing “men for a better future here on the earth, and for eternal life in the world to come.”[17]

Notes

[1] Jeffrey R. Holland, in “Elder Holland desde el CEBA el 29/01/13,” YouTube video, 1:43, 3:32, 4:03, 8:40, posted by Aline Jael M G, January 29, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO47a5arSW8; transcript in author’s possession.

[2] Joseph T. Bentley Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.

[3] Harvey L. Taylor, The Story of L.D.S. Church Schools (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1971), 12.

[4] Joseph T. Bentley Papers.

[5] Benemérito groundbreaking ceremony, November 4, 1963, Church History Library.

[6] Alberto Kenyon Wagner and Leona Farnsworth Romney de Wagner, Historia del Centro Escolar Benemérito de las Américas, 1963–1975 (Santa Anita, Mexico: n.p., 1977), 29, in author’s possession.

[7] Interviews with first generation students; interview with Daniel Taylor.

[8] Abraham Lopez to Barbara E. Morgan, email, April 25, 2013.

[9] G. Arturo Limon D., “La Gratitud Es,” 87–174; Mexico City Area Presidency, oral history, interview by Barbara E. Morgan, February 21, 2013, Mexico City, in author’s possession.

[10] Abraham Lopez to Barbara E. Morgan, e-mail, February 20, 2013.

[11] Alfredo Mirón, oral history, interview by Barbara E. Morgan, April 5, 2013, Highland, UT, in author’s possession.

[12] “The Sustaining of Church Officers,” in Conference Report, April 2013.

[13] Paul V. Johnson, oral history, interview by Barbara E. Morgan, March 6, 2013, Salt Lake City, in author’s possession.

[14] Paul V. Johnson, oral history.

[15] Benemérito groundbreaking ceremony.

[16] Carl B. Pratt, oral history, interview by Barbara E. Morgan, February 19, 2013, Mexico City, in author’s possession.

[17] Benemérito groundbreaking ceremony.