LDS seminaries: 100 years of studying, learning and loving the Lord

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Seminary principal Donald D. Davis teaches at Granite High School Seminary, the LDS Church's first seminary.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Frank Day wasn't around for the first few years of seminary in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the 91-year-old American Fork resident has been around for most of them. And for more than one-third of seminary's 100-year history, he was an active participant in the church's educational outreach to teenagers and young adults.

"When I started it was pretty much still a western United States thing," said Day, who started with the Church Educational System in 1951 after his service as a Marine during World War II and continued for 36 years, most of them spent as an administrator of the program. He was a key player in the establishment of LDS seminaries in Asia and the South Pacific — ironically, in many of the same areas where he had fought during the war.

"I'm so glad I had a chance to go back and do something good there," he said. "It's been a joyful thing to watch the program grow and bless the lives of young people and their teachers in other parts of the country, and throughout the world."

Day came up through the CES ranks right behind a handsome young teacher and administrator named Boyd K. Packer. In fact, they worked together in the eastern United States during the 1960s while Day was organizing and supervising CES programs there and President Packer was serving as a mission president in New England.

"He was like a secret weapon for us back then," Day said of his CES colleague, President Packer. "He always had a special fondness for seminaries and institutes, and would do anything he could to help us do what we needed to do. He still does."

Today President Packer is the president of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and this evening President Packer will be the featured speaker at a special worldwide broadcast commemorating the 100th anniversary of LDS seminaries. Frank Day will be among the longtime CES administrators who will be seated on the stand right behind him.

The broadcast will emanate from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City beginning at 6 p.m. MST. It will be broadcast to LDS meetinghouses worldwide. It will also be streamed live on www.seminary.lds.org.

Sometime during the broadcast someone is likely to refer to the first LDS seminary, which was organized in 1912 near the now-closed Granite High School in Salt Lake City. Thomas J. Yates rode his horse from the power plant at which he worked full time to teach the 70 students who were enrolled in that first seminary program.

"This was a new venture," Yates wrote in his autobiography. "It had never been tried before. We could see wonderful possibilities; if it were successful it would mean a complete change for the church."

Certainly things have changed for the church and for the seminary program during the century that has passed since that first seminary class. Today there are nearly 370,000 high school-age students participating in seminary classes in more than 140 nations of the world. There are also 350,000 young people enrolled in institute classes for college-age students.

But even with all that growth, with so many students taking classes in so many nations of the world, one thing hasn't changed.

"The most important factor in the 100 years of seminary is the hundreds of lives it has touched over those years," said Elder Paul V. Johnson, CES commissioner. "It is the individual lives that have been affected as young people have a chance to learn the gospel and to apply those teachings in their lives."

Johnson's words reflect the sentiment of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who said at the start of the 2011-12 school year that "seminary has blessed the lives of hundreds of thousands of LDS youth."

"I remember my own seminary experience," President Monson continued. "Seminary for me was held at an early hour in a little house across the street from my high school. I thought, if my teacher can get up that early, I can get up that early."

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