[Gordon M. Romney was born in the Mormon Colonies in Colonia Juarez, Mexico, in 1899. In 1922, he was called to serve in the Swiss-German (later French) mission. He served there until 1925. During part of the time he served as the acting mission president. He returned and married Elizabeth Wilson in 1927. They eventually settled in El Paso, Texas where Brother Romney was a successful businessman and served in various ward and stake callings. In 1952, the Romneys were called to preside over the new Central American mission. After returning to El Paso in 1955, he served as Stake Mission President and on the high council. In 1968, the Romneys were called to preside over the Mexico Mission. They saw their missionaries bring 5,000 new members into the church. On returning, President Romney was ordained a patriarch and served in this capacity in the El Paso Stake until his death in 1983. I am proud to say he was my grandfather.]
When President Romney arrived in Guatemala City in 1952, the members were meeting for church in a rented private home. Their "chapel" was the living room and dining room. The room could only hold sixty people and at many times there was no standing room available. This meeting place also served as a home for the elders in the city.
When Elder Spencer W. Kimball first visited this small chapel in 1952, he spoke of the need for a new chapel. "Now President Romney, when you build the chapel, I want you to build it for a least 1,500 people." At that time there were only forty members in the entire city! President Romney really didn't think such a large building would be needed, but he followed his leader's instructions.
Sister Romney recalled: "When we arrived in Guatemala, the thought of ever having a chapel was such a faraway dream. Then they [the members] were saying, 'When will we get a chapel, when will we ever get our chapel?' They would say, 'It will never happen.' I can remember one day after we gathered at the old rented chapel for our regular Relief Society meeting. The sisters all wanted to walk to the chapel site. We sat around among the great trees on the lot and dreamed of the day when we would really have our own chapel. I am certain they thought it would never happen, it seemed a long way away."
After Elder Kimball left President Romney in charge of the mission, he went to work on the building. Plans were drawn to seat 400 in the chapel, 600 in the recreation hall, and if necessary, wooden accordion doors could be opened onto a large center patio which could hold up to 1,000 more people. President Romney had the freedom to make many changes to the plans. He made extra efforts to find ways to save costs. Once, while trying to purchase materials from a gentleman of Jewish decent, he pressed him for a discount. "We are not accustomed to giving discounts," the man replied. President Romney, somewhat joking said: "Well, I'm from one of the lost tribes of Israel, I have to have help." The man ended up giving him a ten percent discount. President Romney mentioned that one day the Jews would need help building a temple in Jerusalem. He pledged his help when that day arrived.
The construction work was performed by Guatemalan workers. President Romney supervised the construction. He said: "Sister Romney has often said that I personally knew every screw and nail that went into the construction. I bought everything we used." The construction work took more than a year. As the construction was almost complete, the workers slowed down their efforts, frustrating President Romney. They did not want to be out of work. He promised them continued work on the construction of the mission home. The chapel was then completed within two weeks. The mission home and office were started, creating a "great labrinth of buildings" as they were connected by long tile covered passages. There were extra rooms for living quarters, a laundry room, maid's room, and a complex of office rooms.
When the Romneys left Guatemala, attendance at the chapel peaked to about eight hundred. After they left, Elder Marion G. Romney visited Guatemala. While sitting on the stand in the chapel, he wrote a note to his cousin Gordon that said: "I'm in the chapel this morning holding conference. This is the chapel that you built, present is a congregation of 1,516 people. It is a good thing you built it for 1,500 people." A year later, Harold B. Lee also wrote Brother Romney: "I'm holding conference this morning and we have present 1,825 people. So you see the need of the 1,500"
The brethren were very proud of this chapel which cost only $42,000. President McKay mentioned in April 1954 General Conference: "In Guatemala there is already being completed a chapel with its tile flooring and oak finish at such a reasonable cost as would make any ward in the Church envious."
This beautiful chapel became the center of Church activity in Guatemala and Central America. Missionary work accelerated with its completion. President Kimball's foresight and vision were indeed inspired. He knew what kind of building Guatemala City needed at that time.
(Source: Oral History Program, Interview of Gordon M. and Elizabeth W. Romney by Ronald Esplin, and family history records)