My mission president’s wife was raised in the family of a professor at Ohio State University. When the time came for her to attend college, her father traveled westward to check the Utah schools out. After speaking with some of the professors at Brigham Young University, he decided that he couldn’t possibly send her to Provo lest she lose her testimony. Instead, she went to Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, where she graduated with honors in 1939.
(She went on, among other things, to serve a mission in France and Canada; to assist her husband as he presided over the Switzerland Zürich Mission and what would later be known for a time as the International Mission; to stand by him, later, as he presided for an interim year or so over the Germany Hamburg Mission; to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; to help her husband open missionary work in West Africa; to serve as matron of the Frankfurt Germany Temple; to assist in directing the Nauvoo Visitors Center; and etc.)
Back in the early 1980s, while I was still at UCLA, I visited a friend who was studying for a graduate degree at BYU. He was, it turned out, living in an old Provo home that had once belonged to a rather famous member of the BYU faculty from an earlier generation. That professor, deceased for several years by the time I visited the home, had been fairly well known as a teacher and writer, but there was very little if anything in his writing (and perhaps in his thought) to suggest that he was a believing Latter-day Saint. I recall saying to my friend that it was fascinating that he was living in So-and-So’s former home, and he replied “Yes it is. And at night, when everything is very quiet, you can hear his voice whispering ‘There is no God!’”
When I arrived at Brigham Young University as a seventeen-year-old freshman, one of the requirements was to sign up for the required two-semester religion course on the Book of Mormon. I had a very stimulating experience; my honors Book of Mormon class was taught by Professor Noel B. Reynolds, newly arrived from Harvard.
I assumed that this year-long Book of Mormon requirement had been in place forever. But, in fact, that wasn’t true. As recent research (notably by Professor Reynolds) has shown, the Book of Mormon was long neglected in the Church and at BYU, and it hadn’t been all that long before my arrival in Provo that teachers at BYU were arguing that there simply wasn’t enough content in the Book of Mormon to keep a class going for even a semester, let alone a year.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has famously observed that “this Church is always only one generation away from extinction,” and Brigham Young University is, or should be, an important bulwark against that horrifying, if for the Church as a whole (though, sadly, not for individuals and specific families) perhaps only theoretical, possibility.