Mormonism in Mexico, Part 17: Sans Anglo-American Leadership

While Mexico had stabilized from the Revolution, the 1920s saw continuing strains for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.

When the Lord blesses us with a calling, we are frightened because we know we are incompetent; but if we put forth our will and efforts to fulfill it, then we are happy and we can say that blessed is the calling which made us go beyond our ability.[1]

~ Lucrecia Suárez de Juárez


This is part 17 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.



One of the results of the Mexican Revolution was a clause in the constitution to prevent people who were not Mexican nationals from being religious clergy. This wasn’t enforced right away, allowing Rey L. Pratt to return to the country in 1917 after several years of leading the Church in exile.

Just like during the 1890s, Mexican members in the country had experienced isolation from the Church hierarchy in Utah as a result of American missionaries fleeing the country. The Mexican Latter-day Saints, this time, were able to band together and continue the existence of the Church, even with civil war raging. In speaking of how the Latter-day Saints were prepared for this type of isolation, F. LaMond Tullis wrote that:

Early Mexican members seemed to have a built-in cultural proclivity to “love one another.” Thus, on the whole, except during 1936–46 when the Third Convention was alive and well, members started their Latter-day Saint lives with culturally motivated bonds of solidarity—a meaningful sisterhood and brotherhood.

Add to this the appearance of some really spectacular indigenous leaders during the times that foreign missionaries were absent (1889–1901-polygamy struggles in Utah Territory, 1912–1917-civil war, 1926–29-Cristero rebellion). Add to that the multi-decade mission presidency of Rey L. Pratt, whose manifest policy was to put native leaders in place and tutor them.

On the whole, most native leaders were not so much schooled in arcane church doctrines as they were in applying fundamental principles to their flocks and watching after them. There were no administrative manuals and no on-site supervision from Salt Lake City.

It’s remarkable that the Saints in Mexico appeared to have no larger attrition rate than rural Latter-day Saint villages in the U.S while at the same time they were aggregating new converts through their missionary activities.[2]

Mexican Latter-day Saints were put under strain by their sudden loss of leadership from the United States, but were successful in carrying out the work of the Church.

Among the significant leaders of the Church in Mexico to emerge during this era was Isaías Juárez. He joined the Church in 1907 as a twenty-two year old in San Pedro Mártir (central Mexico). Not long after his baptism, Juárez was called as branch president of San Pedro Mártir—a position in which he served until 1926. Throughout the Revolution, President Juárez continued to hold church meetings and minister to the members of his branch, despite threats and incarceration. As Rey Pratt returned, he expressed admiration for Juárez and began considering him for further leadership positions in the future.[3] For example, in his journal, President Pratt recorded that on November 25, 1917:

Saints to the number of 67 gathered and meeting was held. I called on our Bro Haro and Dimas Jimenez to speak and they bore strong testimonies to the truthfulness of the gospel and expressed thankfulness to the Lord that I had been permitted to return to the mission. I then spoke at some length.

After forenoon meeting I had dinner with Bro Haro and family. At 3 p.m. we again met at the meeting house and a very fine program was rendered by the children and young folks in honor of my return visit to the mission. It was wonderful to note the progress the children of the Branch had made long lines of study upon which they had been started by the missionaries. Little tots that were babies in arms when the Elders left over four years ago got up and recited one or more of the Articles of Faith. This all showed to me that their parents and teaching had not been idle while we had been away. There were 10 present at this meeting and it was certainly gratifying. I spoke for some time at the close of the meeting.

Right after the meeting we went right into a session of regular meetings. I called on Bro Isaias Juarez and Encarnacion Gonzales to speak, and they both bore strong testimonies to the truthfulness of the gospel. …

The Saints of San Pedro, while they have suffered much because of the revolution, at present have plenty to eat and wear and are housed reasonably comfortably, and there is a little prospect of their going back to their own homes under government protection and being allowed to cultivate their own lands.[4]

The growth and strength of the church in San Pedro Mártir under the leadership of Isaías Juárez left an impression on Rey L. Pratt.

President Rey L. Pratt with Isaías Juárez (seated) and other members of the Church (David Juárez, Benito Panuaya, Narciso Sandoval, and Tomás Sandoval), San Gabriel Ometoxtla, ca. 1931.
Courtesy of Church History Library.

Subsequent years led to Rey Pratt’s attention being more and more divided. Expanded mission boundaries, work on publishing Spanish Church literature with the Church’s press in Missouri, and a call to organize missionary work in Argentina in 1924 meant that he was able to visit Mexico less and less often. Missionaries returned in 1921, but there were other issues during the era as well. The resources of the Mexican Latter-day Saints were limited and they did not receive much support from Utah in the way of funding for building construction or distribution of scriptures. While the Book of Mormon had been translated decades before, it wasn’t found in a majority of member households. Meanwhile, the Doctrine and Covenants was not even translated into Spanish, limiting access to the doctrines and policies outlined in that volume of scripture.

The lack of scripture and resources was part of why Margarito Bautista’s genealogical mission in the middle of the 1920s left such a deep impression on the Mexican Latter-day Saints. He had a working knowledge of both English and Spanish and believed that Mexican Saints were prepared for more than basic doctrines. Thus, he shared insights and teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants that were new and sometimes startling to the Mexican Saints. This made him a popular speaker. For example, Guadalupe Monroy recorded that when Margarito preached about eternal families and the Second Coming: “These things that he was explaining were new for us. It strengthened our faith a lot and increased our desire to be faithful until the end of our lives.”[5] By providing information that the Latter-day Saints in Mexico didn’t have access to, Bautista both inspired his coreligionists and gained popularity among them.

During 1926, political events led to another period of isolation for the Church in Mexico. The anticlerical aspects of the constitution began to be enforced due to President Plutarco Elias Calles’s belief that the Catholic Church was undermining the revolutionary initiatives. Further anticlerical laws were enacted, leading to criticisms that his administration was an atheist regime trying to eradicate religion in Mexico. As these laws began to be enforced in 1926, Catholic Mexicans rebelled and began fighting against government forces. Referred to as the Cristero War, the conflict raged for several years afterwards. Although not the main target of the government’s legislation, the Church was forced to withdraw all clergy that were not Mexican, including Rey Pratt and the Euro-American missionaries.

The results had a deep impact on the Church in Mexico. As Fernando Gomez explained:

The opposition of the Catholic Church caused the situation to explode giving the government no choice but act with severity. This caused the exodus of all foreign clergy from the country in 1926, which of course included the Mormon missionaries. Again the local Saints were left to fend for themselves.

Compared to the difficult years the Saints had during the Revolution, the closure of 1926 was in many ways more severe because it involved the spiritual well being of the local Saints.

Despite this well intentioned direction [of the government], the political environment, which developed after 1926, resulted in a fear among the local Saints as they found themselves without physical presence of their foreign leaders. Their meeting places, most of them homes of members or self-constructed structures, were in danger of being nationalized. They now had the responsibility of individually registering with the government as ministers. … These problems added to the many ecclesiastical responsibilities dealing with missionary work, literature, instruction, tithing, ordinances, releases, callings, advancements, physical facilities, reports, conference agendas, certificates, etc. … The local members felt more and more alone. It was necessary for them to assume greater responsibility and autonomy.[6]

Rey Pratt did what he could. When things started to look bad in 1926, he organized a district presidency in central Mexico, including Isaías Juárez as president and Abel Páez and Bernabé Parra as counselors. In many ways, this presidency became the glue that held the Church in Mexico together during this difficult time. President Pratt mostly led through letters, but even when he was able to visit in 1930, he wasn’t allowed to sit on the podium or preach (foreign clergy were still illegal, after all). No full-time missionaries were present from 1926 to 1934. This gave the chance for local leaders to stretch their wings and carry the load of the Church (which they did magnificently), but also meant that trouble was brewing under the surface.



[1] Lucrecia Suárez de Juárez, “Relief Society Brings Happiness,” in At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, ed. Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2017),

[2] F. LaMond Tullis, “Who Were Mexico’s Latter-day Saint Pioneers?,” From the Desk, October 4, 2022,

[3] See F. LaMond Tullis, Grassroots in Mexico: Stores of Pioneering Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2021), 173—174.

[4] Rey Lucero Pratt, 1917 Journal, 43–48.

[5] Cited in Barbara E. Morgan Gardner, “A Spark of Light in This Great Work”, in Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume 4: 1871–1900, ed. Brittany Chapman Nash and Richard E. Turley Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 177.

[6] Fernando Gomez, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Lamanite Conventions: From Darkness to Light (Mexico City: The Museum of Mormon Mexican History, 2004), 16.

2 comments for “Mormonism in Mexico, Part 17: Sans Anglo-American Leadership

  1. My grandmother, Melba Stevens, was a missionary in Mexico and Texas in 1925-27. She started in Mexico, but at some point President Pratt decided to move all of the sisters to Texas.

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