Calling an Apostle

This regular Cornucopia column features incidents from and glimpses into the life and ministry of Elder James E. Talmage as compiled by James P. Harris, who is currently working on a full-length biography of this fascinating Mormon apostle. The column title is adopted from the statement inscribed on Elder Talmage’s tombstone: “Within the Gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known.”


It is always fascinating to get a peek behind the scenes when a new member of the Twelve is called. What follows weaves together stories and reflections on the events leading to the 1919 call of Elder Melvin J. Ballard.

With the death of President Joseph F. Smith on 19 November 1918, Heber J. Grant became the seventh President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He soon called Anthon M. Lund and Charles W. Penrose as his counselors. One of President Grant’s other major tasks was filling the vacancy in the Quorum of Twelve left by President Smith’s death and Grant’s own elevation to prophet. According to President Grant’s biographer, Francis M. Gibbons, Grant intended to call General Richard Whitehead Young. Young was a distinguished military man, a grandson of Brigham Young, and a successful attorney who had served for a time as an Associate Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court. Young was a faithful Latter-day Saint and, by all accounts, worthy of consideration to this office.

According to Gibbons, President Grant spoke with his counselors, who also agreed with his choice. Grant wrote the name “Richard W. Young” on a piece of paper and intended to bring his name up for consideration in the 5 January 1919 meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. “But for a reason he could never fully explain,” Gibbons writes, “he was unable to do so; instead, he presented the name of Melvin J. Ballard, president of the Northwestern States Mission, a man with whom he had very little personal contact.”[1]

Of Elder Ballard’s calling and ordination, Elder James E. Talmage wrote the following in his journal entry for 7 January 1919:

“At 10:30 a.m. the First Presidency and Twelve assembled in the Temple in their usual council room. In accordance with action taken on Sunday last [5 January], Elder Melvin Joseph Ballard, heretofore president of the Western States Mission, was ordained an Apostle and set apart as one of the Council of the Twelve. . . . President Heber J. Grant officiating in the ordination and setting apart.

“We have a convincing testimony that Elder Ballard is the Lord’s choice for this place. He has been one of the best of our Mission Presidents, and the dominating theme in all his preaching has been that of the Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. His humility and affable personality have tended to endear him to the missionaries and resident saints in his Mission, as also to non-members of the Church. We are all profoundly grateful to have him numbered with us in the Council. His brief address of acceptance immediately prior to his ordination will not be forgotten by any one of those present.”

One sad note that also perhaps reflects the wisdom of the choice of Melvin J. Ballard to this position is that Richard W. Young passed away from appendicitis less than a year later. Elder Melvin J. Ballard went on to serve in the Quorum for twenty-one years until his death on 30 July 1939. He is the grandfather of current apostle, M. Russell Ballard.

[1] Francis Gibbons, Heber J. Grant: Man of Steel; Prophet of God, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 175.