Despite dealing with isolation and neglect, Latter-day Saints in Mexico continued to function and serve well. But eventually, things reached a breaking point.
From the beginning, God has sought to gather and organize His children “to bring to pass [our] immortality and eternal life.” With that purpose in mind, He has instructed us to build places of worship where we receive knowledge and the ordinances of salvation and exaltation; make and keep covenants that bind us to Jesus Christ; are endowed with “the power of godliness”; and gather together often to remember Jesus and strengthen each other in Him. The Church organization and its buildings exist for our spiritual benefit. “The Church … is the scaffolding with which we build eternal families.”
~ Reyna I. Aburto
This is part 18 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.
On April 14, 1931, disaster struck. Rey Lucero Pratt—the beloved mission president who had overseen the Church in central Mexico for 23 years—died due to complications from a surgery. Already feeling an acute sense of isolation from the Church in Utah, Pratt’s death removed the strongest tie left at that time between the Mexican Latter-day Saints and church leaders. Pratt’s replacement didn’t make matters any better.
Antoine R. Ivins was called as Rey Pratt’s successor as mission president for Mexican Latter-day Saints, but he paid little attention to the Saints in Mexico. His calling covered both Mexican-Americans in the southwestern United States and the country of Mexico, but he focused his efforts almost entirely on the United States. Thus, the connection that had been broken by Rey Pratt’s death was not repaired. As Agricol Lozano summarized the situation:
The worry, the anxiety, caused by the absence of the Mission President and the missionaries, the urgent needs: such as literature, lack of meeting places, lack of immediate and direct communication to discuss advancements in the Priesthood, in diverse callings of the administration, etc., caused the District President to call a meeting on the 5 of January of 1932, inviting several brethren from the presidencies of the branches and district. This meeting took place in the building that housed the Nativitas Branch, [in Mexico City].
This First Convention was a priesthood meeting focused on addressing the needs of the Church in Mexico. President Ivin’s neglect was a primary focus of the meeting, resulting in a request being sent to Salt Lake City to call a separate mission president for Mexico—specifically, they asked for a Mexican Latter-day Saint to serve as mission president, since a Mexican could better understand their needs and serve legally in the country. No response ever came.
Not long after the First Convention, however, President Ivins did visit Mexico City with Apostle Melvin J. Ballard. They worked with U.S. ambassador (and future First Presidency member) J. Reuben Clark Jr. as their host. The Mexican Latter-day Saints were overjoyed about the visit. As Antoine Ivins recorded in his journal:
February 17, It had been arranged that we would go to Tecalco for Wednesday and hold meeting with them. We left Mexico City about 10 o’clock and reached Tecalco about 2:20 to find the home full of waiting Saints.
When we entered I saw what was coming and urged Brother Ballard so that he received a shower of rose petals that they had in dishes. They were lined up, the ladies on one side, the gents opposite, and the children at the far end. It was a rare experience and Brother Ballard was thrilled with it. As we entered they sang us a hymn as I remember it began with “The messengers are coming” or so some expression. … Many of them wept for the joy of seeing an apostle and their new president.
Among the experiences during their visit, Ivins noted that: “We met the leading men of the branch at 5 p.m. and at Portales (The Mexican City Branch) regarding the construction of a chapel in Mexico City. They have been urging it upon the Presidency of the Church [for] some time.” He also was impressed by how well the meetings they attended were conducted. Ballard and Ivins did not, however, address the problems that the Saints in Mexico were facing, and this visit was the only visit Ivins made to Mexico during his 4-year tenure as mission president. Fernando Gomez wrote that: “The attitude of the locals, despite the fact that they had already met in the First Convention, which had taken place one month earlier, reflected their humble spirit, respect and reverence for Church leaders. They wept for joy, thankful to have them in their presence.” But the visit did not meet their expectations or their needs. After some time passed, the Second Convention was organized on February 11, 1934.
The minutes of the Second Convention still exist (and Fernando Gomez is publishing a new book to discuss what they reveal in more detail). Antoine Ivins had recently been released, so the meeting began with Isaías Juárez announcing that “our current president is Brother Harold Pratt, who will replace Brother Ivins – In addition to this, Brother Harold Pratt will be able to visit us from time to time – the brother will visit us very soon as I have received news.” Juárez discussed some of the legal issues the Saints were facing—imprisonment for some, concerns about the number of ministers they were legally allowed relative to population, etc., stating: “This meeting will be to settle many issues and purposes. – The demands of the law and all its requirements must be taken into consideration and must be complied with – all you have to do is think about the economic issue. – The Church in Mexico has taken a great step, and the responsibility remains with us to move forward.” He added tithing, donation funds for chapels, and the nature of the priesthood as other topics to discuss.
The meeting followed the agenda. A discussion about the priesthood by Abel Páez was followed by some discussion about a donation fund for constructing chapels. Then came a chance for each branch president to bring up specific needs of their branches. For example, Felipe Barragán from Ozumba discussed issues with the government in Atlautla interfering with the construction of a chapel there and the imprisonment of some members in his branch. Othón Espinoza from Mexico City suggested that they should elect a bishop to handle matters of tithing. Isaías Juárez countered, noting that as district president, he had been given the authority to manage tithes, but stated that: “I am willing to do whatever you wish, but you all know that according to the letter it gives me the right to manage these monies.” He also responded to the situation in Atlautla, telling Barragán that: “I would advise the brother to try to deliver to the municipality what it demands. … You should set an example and not make the Government upset.”
The meeting continued with Pilar Páez from Mexico City expressed frustration about the condition of the branch in Mexico City—including the need for a meetinghouse. He also stated: “There must be missionaries also a printing press that is responsible for all literature etc., etc.” In response, Abel Páez stated: “Brother Harold W. Pratt has more opportunity to put all these things into consideration – Brother Isaías Juárez together with Brother Pratt will be able to solve them with expertise.” Further discussions centered on caring for widows, managing branch histories, and leadership organization. The convention was hopeful about their new mission president, even while facing a plethora of problems.
(As a side note, later recollections and histories have indicated that both the First and Second Conventions sent petition letters to Salt Lake City making specific requests. The letters, however, are not extant and the minutes of the Second Convention makes no mention of a letter being drafted—thus, Fernando Gomez has questioned whether those letters actually existed.)
As mission president, Harold Pratt was the opposite of Antoine Ivins, with the pendulum of involvement swinging to the other extreme. Where Ivins had neglected, Pratt micromanaged. Euro-American missionaries were called to positions to support the branches, but were often assigned to more than they strictly needed to be, edging out Mexican Saints from positions of authority. Other incidents occurred that deeply disturbed the Mexican Latter-day Saints. For example, in the notes of the Third Convention, we find the following story:
It so happened that the brethren in Tecalco asked Sister Catalina Bautista to prepare a group of children so that they could take part in a program and present a number during conference. Without hesitation said Sister accepted and started to prepare the children and made some purchases for materials that she would need. While they were having one of their practices the missionaries arrived and we supposed they were surprised to see the new activity. Nevertheless they helped the sister that evening so that the children could continue their practice.
The next day after having a long conversation between the elder and sister missionary who were in charge of the MIA work in the mission, the missionary came up to Sister Bautista and said to her: “Who authorized you to do this work with the children? You have no right to initiate programs like this one. The MIA is the only one in charge of such activities. If you want to do something you have to first obtain permission from President [Harold] Pratt”. This caused Sister Bautista great humiliation and much sorrow.
Frustrations over issues like this continued to build, culminating in the Third Convention in 1936.
 Reyna I. Aburto, “We Are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” CR April 2022, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2022/04/13aburto.p8?lang=eng.
 Agricol Lozano Herrera, Historia del Mormonismo en Mexico, 66, translated by Fernando Gomez.
 Antoine R. Ivins, 1934 Journal, 25. Cited in Fernando Gomez, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Lamanite Conventions: From Darkness to Light (Mexico City: The Museum of Mexican Mormon History, 2004), 26.
 Gomez, The Church of Jesus Christ, 27.
 Minutes of Convention held in the Branch of Mexico City of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints convened on February 11, 1934. Copy in author’s possession.
 Informe General de la Tercera Convención 1936, 32. Cited in Gomez, The Church of Jesus Christ, 28.