Matthew Cowley

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Matthew Cowley
Matthew Cowley.JPG
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 11, 1945 (1945-10-11) – December 13, 1953 (1953-12-13)
Called by George Albert Smith
LDS Church Apostle
October 11, 1945 (1945-10-11) – December 13, 1953 (1953-12-13)
Called by George Albert Smith
Reason Death of Heber J. Grant and reorganization of First Presidency
at end of term
George Q. Morris ordained
Personal details
Born (1897-08-02)August 2, 1897
Preston, Idaho, United States
Died December 13, 1953(1953-12-13) (aged 56)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000
Spouse(s) Elva E. Taylor
Children Jewell C. Sheffield
Parents Matthias F. Cowley
Abbie Hyde
Relatives Samuel P. Cowley (half-brother)

Matthew Cowley (August 2, 1897 – December 13, 1953) was an American missionary and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1945 until his death. He was affectionately known as the "Polynesian Apostle" because of his intimate knowledge of Polynesian culture and the Māori language.

Early life[edit]

Matthew Cowley was the son of Matthias F. Cowley and Abbie Hyde. He was also the half-brother of FBI agent Samuel P. Cowley.

After his birth, in the same year, Cowley's father was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the family moved from Preston, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, Utah. When Matthew was eight years old, his father resigned from the quorum over the church's decision to excommunicate practitioners of plural marriage. In 1911, when Matthew was 14, his father was disciplined and had his priesthood temporarily rescinded.

Cowley attended Latter-day Saints University in Salt Lake City until his call as a missionary.


In 1914, Cowley was called to serve as a missionary in New Zealand. There he developed an unusual talent with the Māori language and people. He was called upon to revise the translation of the Book of Mormon in that language; this revised edition appeared in 1917. He was also called to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price into Māori, with the assistance of Wiremu Duncan and Stuart Meha. The translated version of these scriptural texts appeared in 1919. His mission was extended two years beyond the typical three to complete these tasks.

After returning from his mission, Cowley attended the University of Utah. After graduating he went to George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C. While in Washington, Cowley worked as an assistant to United States Senator Reed Smoot.[1] Afterwards, Cowley started his own law practice in Salt Lake City. He married Elva Eleanor Taylor in the Salt Lake Temple on July 13, 1922; they had one daughter.

In 1938, Cowley was called to serve as president of the church's New Zealand Mission. As World War II began, the church called the missionaries serving overseas back home to the United States, but Cowley remained in New Zealand throughout the war. During his service, he adopted a Māori boy, Duncan Nopera Meha Cowley. Cowley was known by both members and non-members alike for his dedication to the Māori people.


Cowley was released as mission president in September 1945, and in the church's general conference the next month, he was called to serve as an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, filling the vacancy caused by the death of church president Heber J. Grant. Cowley was ordained an apostle on October 11, 1945, by new church president George Albert Smith.

Cowley was affectionately known as the "Polynesian Apostle." He was also known for being compassionate. He encouraged members of the church to openly welcome sinners rather than ostracize them. Cowley was also known for being an eloquent speaker and writer. A number of his sermons were compiled into Matthew Cowley Speaks, which was published after his death.

Cowley's contributions to the Māori and the church in New Zealand continued during his service as an apostle. As an apostle, he presided over all of the missions of the church in the Pacific. He played a crucial role in the building of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple and also worked in constructing Church College of New Zealand near the temple site.

Cowley died suddenly in Los Angeles, California. He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery. George Q. Morris was called to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Headstone of Matthew Cowley
Matthew Cowley's Headstone
Cowley Family Monument
Cowley Family Monument

See also[edit]

Published works[edit]

  • Cowley, Matthew (1954). Matthew Cowley speaks: Discourses of Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book Company. ISBN 0-87747-167-3. 
  • --- (1946). Religion and moral reconstruction: Address delivered Sunday, January 6, 1946, at 9 p.m. over Radio station KSL. s.n. ISBN B0007J4GLS. 


  1. ^ Glen L. Rudd, "Memories of Matthew Cowley: Man of Faith, Apostle to the Pacific" in Grant Underwood, ed., Pioneers in the Pacific: Memory, History and Cultural Identity among Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 2005) p. 18.

External resources[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Mark E. Petersen
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 11, 1945 – December 13, 1953
Succeeded by
Henry D. Moyle