In BOSTON — Melvin Herlin, an MIT physics professor and patriarch of the Mormon Church in Boston, joined the congregation’s leaders to welcome Mitt Romney to the Longfellow Park Chapel in Cambridge. As the first-year Harvard graduate student and scion of Mormon royalty shook hands and introduced his beautiful young wife, Ann, an informal benediction burst from the patriarch’s mouth.
“The Lord loves you!” Herlin recalled pronouncing.
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Romney spent the next quarter century reciprocating as a tireless servant in the houses of his Lord. After committing to Mormonism as a missionary in France and affirming his faith as an undergrad at Brigham Young University, Romney arrived in Boston in 1971 ready to honor one of the most renowned names in Mormondom, master the institution and fulfill his ecclesiastical destiny.
He did so by fulfilling a broad and time-consuming array of church obligations that deepened his connection to his church and the believers in it. Romney’s service fostered his rise through the local hierarchy, and, his mentor said, furthered his spiritual evolution toward the ultimate goal of godhood. By the early 1980s, Romney’s commitment had convinced his superiors that he had the calling of a leader — first as a bishop and then as the Boston area’s highest spiritual authority.
But it was between his mid-20s and mid-30s, as he moved from graduate school to a successful career in business, that Romney beat a path through an intellectually dynamic congregation. As some of his fellow congregants wrestled with controversy and soul-searching stirring in Salt Lake, Romney focused on organizing youth events, networking with future business leaders and impressing a powerful patron with his personal industry. He kept the bishop’s schedule, taught teenagers church-approved history and slept in a luggage compartment on a bus to the Washington Temple. In this private sphere, the touches of emotion and efforts at levity, the assertions of devoutness and affinity for rules that have tinted Romney’s campaign trail blazed in vivid color.
This story is based on conversations with dozens of church officials and members who served and worshipped with Romney.
Romney declined to comment, and his campaign declined to contribute to this account.
Joining the congregation
The Longfellow Park Chapel that Romney joined in 1971 was unlike any church he had ever attended. A handsome brick chapel on Brattle Street, the meeting house sat across from a Georgian mansion where George Washington had headquartered and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow later lived. It had a pipe organ where congregants played Bach preludes or selections from the French repertoire. Its pews felt old and heavy, and the congregants could look above the speaker in the pulpit to a rose window that flecked light around the room.
By the late 1960s the congregation boomed with graduate students who often spilled into the foyer. Harvard and MIT scholars prayed alongside taxi drivers and police officers. Some churchgoers belonged to the arch-conservative John Birch Society, which had roots in Romney’s adopted home in nearby Belmont. Others considered the Cambridge chapel a liberal Mormon heaven and its antiwar activists once got into a shouting match with the Boston Mission president. The aspiring moguls at Harvard Business School rolled their eyes at the big ideas of the academics, some of whom in turn dismissed the “B School Boys” and referred to Romney as “plastic man.”