Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Joseph L. Wirthlin Joseph L. (Leopold) Wirthlin

1893 - 1963

  • Born 1893 Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Baptized 1902
  • Received Melchizedek Priesthood and Ordained Elder 1913
  • Mission to Swiss and German Mission 1913-1914
  • Married Madeline Bitner; five children
  • Ordained High Priest 1926
  • Bishop, Stake President
  • Second Counselor in Presiding Bishopric 1938-1946
  • First Counselor in Presiding Bishopric 1946-1952
  • Presiding Bishop 1952-1961
  • Died 1963 Salt Lake City, Utah

    Seldom before or since was a man called as the Presiding Bishop of the Church with more extensive preparation or impressive resumé than Bishop Joseph L. Wirthlin.

    Bishop Wirthlin was born Aug. 14, 1893, in Salt Lake City, the son of Joseph Wirthlin and Emma Hillstead. Speaking of his parents, Bishop Wirthlin remarked, "I am grateful for the parents that are mine; grateful because they have exemplified in their lives the principles of virtue, integrity and faith." "I am very grateful for membership in the Church; I am grateful for my forbears who made it possible, by accepting the Gospel in Europe and coming to the Promised Land, for me and mine to enjoy peace and plenty." The Wirthlin family is of Utah Pioneer stock and lists three of its sons as General Authorities, Joseph L. Wirthlin, subject of this sketch served as Presiding Bishop. His son, Joseph B. Wirthlin currently serves in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and another of his sons, Richard B. Wirthlin is currently a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

    Bishop Wirthlin was baptized in June, 1902, and after being ordained an Elder he filled a mission to the Swiss and German Mission in 1913-1914.

    After his return home he married Madeline Bitner, by whom he fathered five children;

    After being ordained a High Priest February 25, 1926 by Charles W. Nibley, he was ordained a Bishop and set apart as Bishop of the Salt Lake City 33rd Ward, Liberty Stake, Utah, on  April 22, 1928, by Elder James E. Talmage. In the April 1936 General Conference, it was announced the Liberty Stake was being divided, creating the new Bonneville Stake. and that Bishop Wirthlin has been called as the first President of the newly formed stake.

    On April 6, 1938, after serving a term as Stake President, Joseph L. Wirthlin became a General Authority as he was called to serve as Second Counselor to Presiding Bishop LeGrand Richards. Marion G. Romney succeeded him as the Stake president of the Bonneville Stake. For eight years he served before being called as First counselor on December 12, 1946. Then after serving a total of fourteen years as a Counselor to the Presiding Bishop, he himself was called as Presiding Bishop, serving from April 6, 1952 to Sept. 30 1961 with Thorpe B. Isaacson, as his First Counselor and Carl W. Buehner as his Second Counselor.

    Elder LeGrand Richards on the occasion of Bishop Wirthlin being called as the Presiding Bishop said of the man who had served as his counselor, "I first want to tell you that I'm proud that Brother Wirthlin has been called as the Presiding Bishop of this Church. He and I have labored side by side for fourteen years, and I doubt if any two men have ever been closer to each other than we have been. He is a noble character, and he is as true and loyal to this Church as any man I have ever met. If we ever questioned the instruction of the brethren, he would say, "Well, you know, if the brethren were to tell us to put the Presiding Bishop's Office up on Ensign Peak, there it would go." That is the kind of faith he has."

    The following are remarks excerpted from the talk Bishop Wirthlin gave when called as the Presiding Bishop.

    My beloved brethren and sisters, I approach this task with mingled feelings this afternoon. The only difference between Bishop Richards' and my situation has been that I was asked to visit President McKay last night at five-thirty. Hence the turmoil in my soul has existed for twenty-four hours whereas in his case, he has only had two hours of it.

    I would like to say that this change has brought about an end of one of the sweetest experiences that I have ever enjoyed. The last fourteen years in association with Bishop Richards has been a great source of inspiration, joy and happiness for me.

    I found him to be a man of great faith. He has an abundance of humility and in his heart of hearts there is a great love for all people. There has been a beaten trail to his door over the years by those who have been in distress, and they have never left his office empty-handed or without some inspiration and encouragement. And as he leaves us, we shed tears at our parting, but we are only two floors apart.

    It was just fourteen years ago this month when the telephone rang in my office, and someone said, "President Grant would like to speak to you."

    I answered the phone. The President said, "This is Heber J. Grant. We are reorganizing the Presiding Bishopric today. LeGrand Richards has been asked to accept the position of Presiding Bishop, with Marvin O. Ashton as his first counselor, and we are asking you to take the position of second counselor." I was shocked, and I suggested to President I should like to talk to him about the matter.

    He then declared, "There are only thirty minutes before the next session of the conference takes up, and I want to have some rest. What do you say?"

    I answered "Yes," and I have never regretted having answered yes to that call and all calls that have come to me in this great organization.

    I think of Bishop Ashton today. I learned much from him. He had a heart that was full of kindness and love for all mankind. I say, "God bless his memory."

    This great honor that has come to me today I accept as a tribute reflecting back to those who made it possible for me to enjoy all the blessings of this great Church.

    I think of my Swiss grandfather and grandmother, my English grandfather and grandmother, who paid a dear price from a physical point of view for the acceptance of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    My Swiss grandfather came into the valleys of the mountains in destitute circumstances. He married his Swiss sweetheart and took her to a mansion out on Eighth East and South Temple -- a dugout -- where they lived for two years. But they were happy in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In a short time my grandfather was called on a mission to Switzerland.

    At that time they had three children. He accepted the call without any reservations. They had no resources except the family cow, and that was sold to the end that his traveling expenses might be paid, and my grandmother sewed salt sacks for one dollar a thousand in order to sustain her family and help her husband who was out preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    My English grandfather was a man of great faith. As a young man he had the feeling in his heart that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ must be upon the earth somewhere, and that the Church of Jesus Christ could be found.

    So he prayed to the Lord earnestly that he might find the Church and the gospel. Finally one Saturday night before retiring, he knelt down and asked the Lord in faith whether or not the Church was upon the earth, and if it was, could he find it.

    During that night he had a dream, and in the dream he saw a street in the city where he lived, and in that street there was a hall, and in that hall two men were preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    When he awoke the next morning he was so impressed by the dream that he got up, dressed, and went to the street, found the hall, and there found two servants of God preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to this country amidst hardships. Because of the faith of these forefathers of mine, I am here, living in peaceful valleys, in the shadows of great mountains, and, above all, within hearing of the voice of the latter-day prophets.

    So I owe to them a debt -- a debt of gratitude, and a debt that can best be paid in service to this great cause. I was blessed with wonderful parents, a father who taught me the importance of integrity and virtue, and a mother of great faith -- a mother who taught me the lessons of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ at her knee. She taught me the story of the visitation of the Father and the Son, and I accepted that story without any reservations.

    She taught me with reference to Jesus Christ and his divine mission. She taught me to honor the men who stand at the head of this Church as prophets, seers, and revelators. And as I have lived and grown older in life, I have found that her teachings were right, that they are true, and because of her I owe to this great organization a service which I pray the Lord will give me the strength to render in such a way that those who have asked me to accept this position will be satisfied, that I will please the Lord, and please you, my brethren and sisters.

    I have been blessed with a fine companion, my dear wife. I remember the time in the early years of our married life when it was a struggle, and I labored in the bishopric of my ward; she gave me encouragement. Many times I have come home from work late. My clothes were spread out, my meal was prepared. I ate it quickly, changed clothes, and visited in the ward until late at night, arose early the next morning before my children were awake, and went to work.

    For days at a time I did not see my children when they were awake. So this companion of mine has the credit of rearing our family, and since I have been in the Presiding Bishopric, being away for weeks at a time, she has taken over, and has done a great service as far as my family is concerned, and I say, "God bless her."

    I have three sons. I love them with all my heart, and I have the same love for the young men over whom we now have the responsibility and privilege of presiding.

    Bishop Wirthlin was released on September 30, 1961. He died a year and a half later on January 25, 1963 at Salt Lake City, Utah at the age of sixty-nine. His widow, Madeline Bitner Wirthlin, died in 1979.

Deseret News Church Almanac, 2005 ed., p. 244.

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