Church historian Kate Holbrook dies

As Kate Holbrook wrapped up her interview on the Church News podcast last June, she shared her testimony.

“I see the Church and the gospel together having the potential to guide us through all the issues we face in this life, as individuals and as a global community,” Holbrook said. “I think it has this potential for the whole world, for every person. And I’ve felt the power of this community and the adherence to its teachings throughout my life.

“I feel like because of this Church, I was able to accomplish things that mattered eternally. I am deeply grateful. I love it,” she said.

Holbrook died on Saturday August 20 of a rare eye cancer – she had been diagnosed 10 years previously, but over the past year the cancer has claimed her life. Upon announcing her passing, her husband, Sam Brown, wrote on Twitter: “Today I have no poetry, only a broken heart and the brutal fact that broke it.”

Born January 13, 1972 in Santa Barbara, California, to Kathleen Stewart and Robert Holbrook, she was raised by her mother and grandmother, Belle Fillmore Stewart, in Provo, Utah.

Holbrook served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Samara Mission in Russia and is a graduate of Brigham Young University. She moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where she graduated from Harvard Divinity School with a master’s degree in theology and began a doctorate in religious studies at Boston University. She met and married Brown in Boston, and they have three children.

Kate Holbrook is pictured in 2017.

Samantha Kelly Photography

The family moved to Utah, where Holbrook completed her doctorate. remotely and began her career in the Church History Department as a Latter-day Saint historian.

She has edited and/or written numerous books and articles. She paid particular attention in her scholarship to the relationship between food and the religious community, her obituary explained.

“Kate loved Jesus with all her heart,” her family wrote. “There was no part of her that didn’t breathe God and the Gospel. She had the honor of leading teams to tell Latter-day Saint stories to strangers and women’s stories to fellow Saints.

The Importance of Church History and Women’s Voices

Holbrook participated in a Face to Face event in Nauvoo, Illinois, with Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and fellow Church historian Matt Grow, where they answered questions on many different topics regarding the Church history.

She recognized that it is painful for a person to learn an aspect of Church history that they thought they should know, but did not know.

That’s why Church historians “do the work that we do,” she said.


Church Historian Kate Holbrook speaks during a “Face to Face” global broadcast focused on Church history in Nauvoo, Ill., Sept. 9, 2018. At left, Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the right is Church Historian Matt Grow.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Holbrook said being there in Nauvoo made him realize how early Latter-day Saints “may have prioritized faith in the will of God above all other considerations.”

“I found that when I study Church history, I gain spiritual ancestors,” she says. “Their examples, their experiences, their suffering, it all really means something to me. It makes me feel grounded. It makes me feel stronger than I was before learning their stories.

Speaking about Nauvoo and the early Latter-day Saints on the Church News podcast, Holbrook said the Church celebrates daily life at historic sites.

“Everyday life is the lives you and I lead, the things that fill our days that are imbued with the desire to be disciples, both the efforts to be disciples of Jesus Christ and the failure to be disciples of Jesus Christ, then repent and try to change,” she said.

Speaking in March 2017 about the recently released book she co-edited, “At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women,” Holbrook said women need to take responsibility and l authority over their own lives and the good they have the potential to do in themselves. She encouraged women to use their speaking authority to be peacemakers and beacons of hope.

“We need the words of women as well as the words of men to help us deeply understand and live the gospel,” she said.


Kate Holbrook — co-editor of ‘At the Pulpit: 185 years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women’ — speaks in the Temple Square Assembly Hall on March 2, 2017.

Rachel Sterzer, Deseret News

Her family in their obituary said that Holbrook “was honored to lead teams in telling Latter-day Saint history to strangers and women’s stories to fellow Saints.”

Funeral services will be held Saturday, August 27 at 11 a.m. at the Bonneville Stake Center, 1535 East Bonneview Drive in Salt Lake City.

Instead of offering flowers, the family asked people to donate to BYU’s Kate Holbrook Scholarship Fund for Primary Caregivers of Young Children Pursuing Graduate Studies in the Humanities.

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