Ronald D. Dennis

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Courtesy Grant Vaughn/Church News

Ronald D. Dennis is an emeritus professor of Portuguese and Welsh at Brigham Young University. His vast collection of biographies, journals, and pictures of early Welsh members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is available at Welsh Mormon History. He has published on Welsh Latter-day Saint history and his books include The Call of Zion: The Story of the First Welsh Mormon Emigration; Prophet of the Jubilee; Welsh Mormon Writings from 1844 to 1862: A Historical Bibliography; and Defending the Faith: Early Welsh Missionary Publications. He has published nearly 6,000 pages of the periodical Zion’s Trumpet.

Dennis is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, and he studied German, French, and Latin in graduate school. In 1976, he took a sabbatical from teaching Portuguese at BYU, moved his family to Wales for six months, and immersed himself in Welsh. He has returned for almost 25 visits over the following years to learn the language well enough to translate, to research for the Church, and to lead tours for others of Welsh descent to connect with relatives, both living and deceased. He has translated enough Welsh Latter-day Saint writings to be considered the field’s leading scholar.

In 2018, he was inducted into the Gorsedd of the Bards in Wales, comparable to the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom civilian award. He was honored for his extensive work in translating and making available many documents regarding Church history in Wales. Dennis has worked with the Welsh National Library as well as the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy to guarantee perpetuity of his work and to allow students and other researchers to add to it.

Dennis is the great-great-great grandson of early Welsh Church leader Dan Jones. Jones’s writings made it possible for Welsh members of the Church to read Church materials in their own language. He wrote a pamphlet, The Guide to Zion, so emigrants would know how to prepare for their journey to join the Saints in America. He accompanied two groups of Welsh Saints to Utah.

“[Dan Jones] was a Welshman who immigrated to the United States, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1843, and went back to his homeland as a fiery missionary in 1845. This Mississippi River steamboat captain also became a prolific writer as he defended the tenets of the Church against attacks from Welsh Baptist pulpits.”[1]

In August 2018, Dennis was invited to Wales to unveil a plaque commemorating the Island Place Meeting House and the presence of early Church members in Wales. The building was demolished in about 2007. The plaque was commissioned and created by the Llanelli Community Heritage Group and they wanted to include the Church in the unveiling. The honor seemed to come full circle, as Dennis’s ancestor Dan Jones was the person who dedicated the original chapel in 1849. “It was the second building constructed and dedicated by members of the newly formed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the first was the Kirtland Temple—and the first built outside of the United States.”[2]

Since Dennis’s retirement in 2004, Dennis has devoted his time to Welsh research. He is writing a biography on Dan Jones and is working to gather and translate all the Welsh anti-Mormon literature from the 1840s and 1850s.