The first two years of missionary work in central Mexico brought some long-standing successes, such as the conversion of Desideria Quintanar de Yáñez and her family, and some frustrating failures, as was the case with Plotino C. Rhodakanaty.
That complicated bond between my faith is what keeps me wondering, searching, discovering, and debating with myself, and through this I find a little of me each day, repeatedly learning that life has a purpose and that it has much to do with others and my relationship to the divine. It humbles me when I begin to think that I’m very important and lifts me up when I convince myself that I’m not worth much.
~Ignacio M. García
This is part 6 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.
Sparked by requests from Plotino C. Rhodakanaty (who has been called “Mormonism’s Greek Austrian Mexican Socialist”), a missionary group led by Apostle Moses Thatcher arrived in central Mexico in late 1879. There are a number of important stories of success during the early days of the mission, beginning with the rapid baptisms and ordinations of Rhodakanaty and his associates as well as the organization of a branch in Mexico City.
Two of the missionaries (Melitón Trejo and James Z. Stewart) worked with Rhodakanaty to translate Parley P. Pratt’s A Voice of Warning (which was generally considered the most important tract for missionary work at that time). They finished their translation, Voz de amonestación, on January 8, 1880 and sent it to a publisher on February 9, 1880. Around this same time in a town called Nopala that was located seventy-five miles away from Mexico City, a woman named Desideria Quintanar de Yáñez had a dream in which she saw the Voz de amonestación being printed. She felt prompted to find the book and sent her son, José, to Mexico City to find out more. As described in Saints, vol 2, José was successful in his venture:
He found Mexico City teeming with hundreds of thousands of people, and his search for the book seemed hopeless. But one day, while walking through the city’s busy streets, he met Plotino Rhodakanaty, who told him about a book called Voz de amonestación.
Plotino sent José to a hotel to meet with missionary James Stewart. There José learned that Voz de amonestación was the Spanish translation of a book called Voice of Warning, which Latter-day Saint missionaries had been using for decades to introduce English-speaking people to their faith. It testified of the Restoration of the gospel of Christ and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, a sacred record of ancient inhabitants of the Americas.
Voz de amonestación was not yet off the printing press, but James gave José religious tracts to take home with him. José brought the tracts to his mother, and she studied them carefully. Desideria then asked for missionaries to come to Nopala and baptize her.
Meliton Trejo came to town in April and, at their request, baptized Desideria, José, and José’s daughter Carmen. A few days later, José returned to Mexico City and received the Melchizedek Priesthood. When he came home, his arms were laden with tracts and books, including ten copies of the newly printed Voz de amonestación.
Desideria and José Yáñez responded to Desideria’s dream and were led to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a result.
Desideria was the first woman to be baptized into the Church in Mexico and she remained faithful to the Church through the remainder of her life. Not long after their baptism in April 1880, José returned to Mexico City and was ordained an elder. Missionaries continued to visit Nopala and more converts continued to be baptized there, particularly among relatives of the Yáñez family. In 1886, for example, Elder Erastus Snow and Horace Cummings (the new mission president) visited their branch. They visited Desideria and were told that she was a descendant of Cuauhtémoc, the final Aztec emperor, who was executed during the conquest. They were excited to hear that and encouraged the Saints to record their genealogies. They also mentioned that Melitón Trejo had continued to work on translating the remaining portions of the Book of Mormon and that it was nearly ready for distribution from Salt Lake City. Desideria was so excited to hear this that President Cummings sent for an unbound volume and a month later, he “visited old Sister Yáñez … and gave her an unbound Book of Mormon which I had sent to Utah for. It was the first in Spanish that had been received in Mexico, and she was the first woman baptized in the Republic–a pleasant coincidence. She seemed much pleased by it.” Despite the mission being abandoned in the 1890s and the eventual alienation of José from the Church (at least for a time), José stated later on that Desideria “died in full faith of Mormonism” when she passed away in 1893.
Plotino C. Rhodakanaty’s story, however, was not as successful for the Church. As mentioned in a previous post, one of the most important things that drew him to the Church was the communitarian projects that had been attempted in Utah as a means for achieving social and economic reform. He was baptized in 1879 and made a branch president shortly thereafter over eleven others (most of whom were from a study group he led). A month after the branch was organized, however, Moses Thatcher noted in his journal that only four out of the twelve were still attending, which he attributed to the possibility that: “Some of them had other than pure motives in attaching themselves to the Church–A desire for earthly rather than eternal gain.” He saw their desire to work with the Church in working to cure the economic and social ills faced by their society as a desire to use the Church for their own material benefit.
While Rhodakanaty remained active in the Church, he became increasingly frustrated and at odds with Elder Thatcher. For example, when Rhodakanaty began to pressure Thatcher to establish a United Order community for members in central Mexico, Thatcher balked and complained that Rhodakanaty “acted as if he thought the Mormon gospel existed to serve the ideal of communitarianism.” In 1881, Thatcher forced Rhodakanaty to resign as branch president and at least one member of Rhodakanaty’s study group (Domingo Mejia) was excommunicated at the same time. As a result Rhodakanaty soon left the Church as well, though some of his group (such as Silviano Arteaga) remained active members. Bill Smith and Jared M. Tamez explained that:
Rhodakanaty and those who left the LDS Church with him indeed became disillusioned, and the records show that both their interest in Mormonism and their disillusionment were sincere. Mormonism, as they understood it, at least in part from the church literature they read, could be a powerful force for social change. … As rational actors, sincerely committed to the ideals they had perceived in Mormonism, they left the church when they realized it was not what they had expected.
Although Plotino C. Rhodakanaty was instrumental in bringing the Church to central Mexico, he ultimately chose to reject the Church because it didn’t align with his expectations.
The first two years of missionary work in central Mexico brought some long-standing successes, such as the conversion of Desideria Quintanar de Yáñez and her family, and some frustrating failures, as was the case with Plotino C. Rhodakanaty. The foundations of the Church in Mexico were laid during this early missionary effort, though the mission itself would prove to be a bit touch-and-go over the subsequent decades due to external difficulties faced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 Ignacio M. García, Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith (Lanham, Maryland: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015), 217.
 Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 477-478, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v2/part-3/32-stand-up-and-take-the-pelting?lang=eng.
 Horace H. Cummings journal, November 29, 1886, Typescript, Horace H. Cummings Mission Papers, Church History Library.
 See Clinton D. Christensen, “Solitary Saint in Mexico: Desideria Quintanar de Yáñez (1814 – 1893), in Richard E. Turley Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman, Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume One, 1775-1820 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 461-472.
 Moses Thatcher Journal, December 14, 1879.
 F. LaMond Tullis, Mormons in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1987), 39.
 Bill Smith and Jared M. Tamez, “Plotino C. Rhodakanaty: Mormonism’s Greek Austrian Mexican Socialist,” in Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, ed. Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 66.