Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 3,494,000; Members, 92,117; Stakes 16; Wards 107; Branches 55; Missions, 2; Districts, 4; Temples, 1; percent LDS, 2.6, or one in 38; South America South Area.

On the eastern coast of South America, the Republic of Uruguay has a Spanish-speaking population that is 52 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Protestant, 2 percent Jewish, and 30 percent non-professing or other.

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Beginning in the mid-1920s, Montevideo was a frequent stopping point for missionaries traveling by steamship to and from the United States to serve in Argentina. In 1940 Rolf L. Larson of the Argentine Mission became well known in Uruguay as a member of the Argentine all-star team participating in the South American basketball finals, where he was often recognized as an LDS missionary. Shortly thereafter mission president Frederick S. Williams and his secretary visited Montevideo to meet with friends made by Larson.

From 1942 to 1947 various LDS families lived in Montevideo, many of them working for the U.S. government or businesses. In July 1944, President James L. Barker of the Argentine Mission organized a branch in Montevideo for these members, with Fred Williams as branch president. As World War II progressed, many of the Latter-day Saints living in Montevideo returned to the U.S. or were transferred elsewhere and the branch was closed.

With the war over, in August 1946, Williams and other former Argentine missionaries met with Church President George Albert Smith to urge that missionary work be established in additional South American countries. Two months later Williams submitted to the First Presidency a document regarding conditions in various countries, with Uruguay heading the list of places he recommended be opened to proselyting. He heard nothing more about his proposal until April 1947, when President David O. McKay called him as the first president of the Uruguayan Mission.

Williams and his family arrived in Montevideo in August 1947. In October they were joined by Charles C. Janson, who had been serving in the Argentine Mission, and Argentine Latter-day Saint Juan D. Sciorra. Ten days later the first missionaries called to Uruguay from the United States (Wilford M. Farnsworth, Preston J. Bushman Jr., and William N. Jones) joined the small group appointed to launch the new mission.

By February 1948, when Stephen L Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Uruguay, four branches had been organized in Montevideo and a branch had been established in the interior city of Treinta y Tres. The first baptisms took place in November 1948, including Avelino J. and Maria Esther Rodriguez and Diber Alba Preciozzi in Montevideo and others in Treinta y Tres and Durazno. Local residents Eduarda Argault, Argina Williams, Elsa Vogler, and Juana Gianfelice were the first full-time missionary sisters to serve in Uruguay (1948-1949), with La Von Evans and Mersel M. Day being the first sister missionaries to arrive from the United States (February 1950). Late in 1949 the country of Paraguay was added to the territory of the Uruguayan Mission, a situation that continued for more than 25 years. (Some years later the mission was also given temporary responsibility for beginning missionary efforts in Peru, on South America’s west coast, and for a month late in 1956 was assigned similar responsibility for missionary work in Chile.)

Missionary work proceeded slowly, but by the time President Williams was released in 1951, branches had been opened in fourteen of the country’s nineteen departmental capitals and total LDS membership stood at approximately five hundred. Ground was broken in January 1953 for the first LDS meetinghouse in Uruguay, built for the Deseret Branch in Montevideo, with President McKay laying the cornerstone for the building in February 1954 and Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Twelve dedicating the building in December of that year. Additional buildings were started for the Rodo Branch in Montevideo and in Treinta y Tres.

To familiarize Uruguayans with the Latter-day Saints, the mission organized the Club Deseret to sponsor athletic activities, especially basketball and softball, as well as a mission choir and other musical groups that performed for the general public. More formal approaches to missionary work were also emphasized and by 1960 Church membership had risen to nearly 3,400. In spite of the growth in numbers, as late as 1959 the majority of the branch presidents and all of the district presidents were missionaries from the United States. When mission president J. Thomas Fyans arrived in 1960, he determined that greater emphasis should be given to training local Latter-day Saints to fill leadership positions. His systematic approach to teaching the principles of lay leadership, “Six Steps to Stakehood,” helped to move the Church in Uruguay into a new era and paved the way for increased success in the missionary effort. By 1965 the total Church membership in Uruguay exceeded 11,000.

During the early 1960s, Uruguay became the administrative center for the Church in South America when Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Council of the Seventy was assigned as supervisor of the missions on that continent and took up residence in Montevideo. Following the introduction of the building missionary program in 1961, the Church constructed residences and offices in the Carrasco section of Montevideo for the officers of the South American Building Committee. Under this program, 10 new meetinghouses were completed in Uruguay by 1967.

With the progress of the Church in Montevideo, both in terms of numbers of members and trained leaders, by November 1967 the time had come for a stake to be organized in the Uruguayan capital. At the time there were only two other stakes in South America.

Church growth continued during the years that followed, although the country was plagued for many years by urban guerrillas and soaring inflation. The Montevideo Stake was divided in February 1974, and four stakes were organized in the interior during May 1977. By March 1980, with three more stakes in the capital and four in the interior, all of Uruguay was covered by stakes, although because of the challenges posed by the extensive territories covered by some of the interior stakes, three of them were returned to district status during 1989.

Other milestones in the Church’s history in Uruguay include an area conference in Montevideo in October 1978, where President Spencer W. Kimball and other General Authorities addressed some 9,000 Latter-day Saints; the creation of a second mission in Uruguay in July 1997; President Gordon B. Hinckley’s visit to Montevideo, where he spoke to some 11,000 Saints in August 1997 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Uruguayan Mission; and the dedication of the Montevideo Uruguay Temple by President Hinckley in March 2001.

Membership reached 80,000 in 2002. In 2005, membership reached 86,943.

See Also[]


Sources: “Uruguay,” Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2004; Frederick S. and Frederick G. Williams, From Acorn to Oak Tree: A Personal History of the Establishment and First Quarter Century Development of the South American Missions, 1987; Nestor E. Curbelo, Historia de los Santos de los ?timos Dias en Uruguay : Relatos de Pioneros, 2002; Gordon Irving, “Uruguay: A Preliminary Background Paper,” 1976; Dee F. Green, “La Mision Uruguaya,” Liahona, April 1959; Dell Van Orden, “Emotions swell as meetings end,” Church News, 11 November 1978; Arnold J. Irvine, “Church makes strides in this small country,” Church News, 30 January 1982; John L. Hart, “They had the faith to be first,” Church News, 9 November 1986; “Visit is climax to events, greeted with reverence, joy,” Church News, 23 August 1997; “Mission created in Uruguay flourishes among a prepared people,” Church News, 27 September 1997; Nestor Curbelo, “Dream of many decades now a reality,” Church News, 24 March 2001.