Elder Matthew Cowley was born August 2, 1897 at
Preston, Franklin County, Idaho to Matthias
Foss Cowley and the former Abbie Hyde.
As a young man, he served a mission to New Zealand.
As a young missionary, he developed unusual skill in the Maori language,
and was assigned to prepare a translation of the Book of Mormon into that
language correcting errors in an earlier translation. He made changes in
approximately 2,500 verses in the original translation, and the second
edition appeared in 1917. Elder Cowley was then assigned to translate the
Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, assisted by Wiremu
Duncan and Stuart Meha. These translations appeared in 1919.
In 1938 he was called to preside over the New
Zealand Mission. With the coming of World War II, all American missionaries
were called home, but President Matthew and Sister Elva Taylor Cowley chose
to remain in New Zealand with their family to supervise the work during
the war. It was September 1945 before the Cowleys were released after seven
and a half years of service. At the October 1945 general conference, Matthew
Cowley was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and
was affectionately called their "Polynesian Apostle" by the Saints of the
Elder Cowley told of an interesting experience while
serving a Mission in New Zealand. "I was called to a home in a little village
in New Zealand one day. There the Relief Society sisters were preparing
the body of one of our Saints. They had placed his body in front of the
Big House, as they call it, the house where the people came to wail and
weep and mourn over the dead, when in rushed the dead man's brother.
He said, "Administer to him."
And the young natives said, "Why, you shouldn't do
that; he's dead."
"You do it!"
This same old man that I had with me when his niece
was so ill was there. The younger native got down on his knees, and he
anointed the dead man. Then this great old sage got down and blessed him
and commanded him to rise. You should have seen the Relief Society sisters
scatter. And he sat up and he said, "Send for the elders; I don't feel
very well."…Well, we told him he had just been administered to, and he
said: "Oh, that was it." He said, "I was dead. I could feel life coming
back into me just like a blanket unrolling." Now, he outlived the brother
that came in and told us to administer to him. (Devotional address at B.Y.U.,
February 18, 1953.)
On another occasion as he was about to bless and name a baby, the father said, "By the way, give him his vision when you give him his name. He was born blind." Elder Cowley was stunned but, on reflecting on the power of the priesthood, said to himself, "Why not?" The child received his vision.
Elder Cowley was married July 18, 1922 in the Salt
Lake Temple to Elva Taylor and the couple had three children.
He was sustained to the Council of the Twelve Apostles and ordained
an Apostle October 11, 1945 by President George
He was well beloved by the Maori people and seems
to have had a gentle loving disposition. He was described as "The Man of
Many Friends," in the Relief Society Magazine (Feb. 1954), p. 78. An eloquent
speaker, he compiled and authored Matthew Cowley Speaks, an anthology
of many of his talks.
He seems to have been of a mind to help sinners rather
than ostracize them. He used to tell us that every priesthood quorum in
this church ought to be an "Alcoholics Anonymous," because we all have
smokers and drinkers who have to have help before they can overcome their
habits, and we ought not to be an organization that says to a man who is
begging for help, "Well, join the Alcoholics Anonymous." We ought to say,
"Now you come to priesthood quorum meetings and we will assign some man
who used to have this habit to work with you, and we will give you the
help with the power of the priesthood until you can overcome it."
Elder Cowley died in 1953 at Los Angeles, California
and was buried at Salt Lake City, Utah.