by Alan P. Malan, originally published in The Malan Monitor, Winter 1990
Just about two months after the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the rural setting of Nineteenth Century Vermont, another birth occurred half a world away in very similar circumstances.
On November 20, 1804 in the mountain village of Prassuit, near Angrogne, Catherine Costabel, the wife of Jean (John) Daniel Malan, gave birth to the couple’s firstborn son. Just as in the case of Joseph Smith, this child too would be known by the name of his father, and he would likewise bring great honor and respect to his name by the life he would live and the example he would set as a humble follower of the Lord.
In John Daniel’s early years, he developed many of the character traits for which he would later be remembered. From his noble parents he surely learned of love, hard work, and commitment. And as the eldest son of eight children he undoubtedly had plenty of opportunity to serve and sacrifice for the good of his family.
His personal faith, which later would lead him to revolutionary change, must have been kindled in these formative years. As he was taught of his ancestral heritage, both in his home and at the meetings of the Waldensian Church, he must have been stirred by the traditions of faith that had preceded him.
As John Daniel’s character was developing in Italy, events were unfolding in America that were destined to change the course of his life and ultimately the lives of all mankind.
In the spring of 1820, when John Daniel was fifteen, Joseph Smith received his divine commission in a glorious vision in western New York. In April of 1825, while Joseph was waiting and preparing to receive the promised plates from Moroni, John Daniel married Pauline Combe.
Pauline came from a similar background and was also spiritually inclined. According to Emily Malan Farley, when Pauline was fifteen years old she went with her father down onto the Piedmont plains to take charge of silk worms on a silk farm in the spring of 1820.
One day, about a week before the season was over, she had been reading the scriptures of the life of Christ and His apostles, and the gospel as they taught it. After retiring that night she lay pondering upon what she had been reading and wishing she could have been living in those days. The building became lighted, and she sat up; feeling a heavenly influence she began to sing a psalm. Twelve personages appeared and formed a semicircle by her cot and joined in her singing. When they had finished they departed and the light left also. When she returned home and related her vision to her mother, her mother read Acts 2:17 to her.
Pauline’s father, Jean (John) Combe, also was a religious man and went regularly to church, but generally came away dissatisfied. He would sometimes comment on the difference between the teaching of the day and the teaching of the Savior and his apostles.
On his deathbed, He told his oldest granddaughter Mary, “The old may not, but the young will see the day when the gospel, shall again be preached in its purity, and in that day Mary remember me.”
As John Daniel and Pauline began to establish themselves as dairy owners at La Orchia and owner-operators of an oil press at Prassuit, their life again came close to the experience of Joseph Smith. In March 1928, John Daniel and Pauline’s first son died a short time after birth, just as Alvin, the first son of Joseph and Emma, would die three months later, on the Smith’s little farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
During the next twenty years eight more children would come to bless the home of John Daniel and Pauline, and the Church of Jesus Christ would once again be organized on the earth. During that twenty-year period, the church would grow and move from New York to Ohio, then from Missouri to Illinois, and finally be firmly established in the heart of the mountains of the American west. From that favored location, the Lord would launch a great missionary effort that would touch the very ends of the earth.
By October 1848, the Malan family of Prassuit was prepared to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. The keys were then turned with the heaven inspired words spoken by President Brigham Young to a newly ordained apostle, Elder Lorenzo Snow: “…establish a mission in Italy and where ever the spirit should direct.” And the spirit ultimately directed Lorenzo Snow and his companions to Piedmont.