In Our Lovely Deseret: Karl Maeser: Let the wise man within you be your ideal

Published: Monday, Jan. 23 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Karl G. Maeser embraced the gospel in Germany, came to Zion, suffered and served and stood as a pillar to the entire church as he was the second principal of Brigham Young Academy and raised a standard of integrity and love of God that blessed thousands.

Maeser was born Jan. 16, 1828, in Meissen, Germany. He graduated with high honors from a teacher training college, then in 1855 married Anna Mieth, daughter of the director of the academy in Dresden, where he obtained a teaching position the following year.

An anti-Mormon pamphlet, of all things, initiated his interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For a period of time Maeser, his curiosity stirred, began to question and read, until William Budge, who spoke English, was sent from mission headquarters in Liverpool, England, to personally instruct the Maeser family — for there was no freedom of religion in Saxony at that time.

In October 1855, Maeser was one of eight converts baptized in the River Elbe. Shortly after, he was sustained as the presiding elder of the little group.

On the day of his baptism he prayed that the Lord would confirm his faith by some manifestation from the heavens. That manifestation came in a powerful way: the young professor was able to understand President Franklin D. Richards as they walked and talked together — President Richards in English, which Maeser had never before understood.

Maeser learned quickly and thoroughly the voice of the Spirit and the correct patterns of truth. Once, while guiding a group of missionaries over the Alps, the men noticed poles set in the snow to mark a safe way across the glacier.

“'Brethren, there stands the Priesthood,'" Maeser remarked, according to Alma P. Burton in "Karl G. Maeser, Mormon Educator." "'They are just common sticks like the rest of us . . . but the position they hold makes them what they are to us. If we step aside from the path they mark, we are lost.'”

Thus, the stream of his life was diverted, and the waters flowed away from his homeland to a faraway desert where the Lord had work for him to do.

He followed the counsel of that inspired priesthood, taking up missionary labors in England and Scotland, then again in Virginia, while teaching music students so he could earn the money he needed to set foot at last in the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1860, four years after he left Germany.

Life in Zion was a challenge. The members of the church were still poor and struggling. Accustomed to luxury and high regard, Maeser was reduced to the lowest extremities. His son, Reinhard, wrote the following, according to Burton:

“He knew what it was to be hungry ... at times conditions became so distressing that the professor made a personal canvass of those who owed him, to collect on tuition whatever his debtors might be able to share with him ... more frequently than not he returned home as he had left — with his barrel empty. 'Well,' he would say, 'the poor people are no better off than we. They can’t pay; I forgive them.'”

Maeser presided over the German-speaking congregations in the city, organized schools in the 15th and 20th wards, and, for a time, served as assistant organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In 1854 Brigham Young appointed him private tutor to his own family — which invariably included others, the young Ellis Reynolds Shipp being one. The only preparation Shipp had for the rigorous demands of medical school in Philadelphia were the brief months she spent under his tutelage.

“As a pupil of Professor Maeser, how blessed was my life!” Shipp is quoted as saying in the book “Not In Vain, Ellis Reynolds Shipp”. “Every moment in his presence seemed a benediction, so great was his spiritual influence, his intuitive uplift to all that was pure and divine. His implicit faith in the living God was an integral part of his being, indeed, the dominant spark of his magnetic influence over mind and morals.”

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