Parents Are Prime Gospel Teachers, Says Sunday School Leader

Contributed By By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 27 May 2014

Tad R. Callister was released from the Presidency of the Seventy on April 5, 2014, and was sustained that day as Sunday School general president. He and his wife, Kathryn L. Callister pose for a photo in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, April 9, 2014.  Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News.

“The most important thing is that we do teach in the Savior’s way, that we teach by the Spirit, that we do teach for conversion. The curriculum is an aid to that. ...And ultimately, we hope that all the teaching that takes place in the youth curriculum, the adult curriculum, the Gospel Principles class, whatever, will funnel into the home and that parents will become the prime gospel teachers of their children.” —Tad R. Callister, Sunday School general president 

Decades before his recent call as Sunday School general president, Sunday School had already played a pivotal role in the life of Brother Tad R. Callister. It was while he was serving as Sunday School president in a student ward at Brigham Young University in 1967 that he got to know his future wife, Kathryn L. Saporiti.

“He asked me to be in charge of coordinating two-and-a-half-minute talks,” said Sister Callister in a recent interview. “No one is more grateful for the Sunday School than I am, because we both served in the Sunday School in our ward, and that’s where we developed our friendship, fell in love, and got married,” said Brother Callister in the interview held a few days after he was sustained in April general conference to his new calling.

“We can’t promise that for everybody, but we do suggest they go to Sunday School.”

Brother Callister, 67, invokes Nephi’s phrase “having been born of goodly parents” to describe his upbringing in Glendale, California, as the fifth of six children. He followed in the footsteps of his attorney father, Reed, in both occupation and desire to serve God and others.

“My dad used to carry around little 3-by-5 cards, and he would memorize vocabulary words and scriptures and Shakespeare,” Brother Callister said. “He took the bus to his law office so he could spend that time reading and studying.” Father and son would often lie by the fireplace at home to read. “At the dinner table, my parents asked lots of gospel questions,” he remembered. “When we would travel, they’d ask lots of gospel questions. … And they rendered lots of service, my parents.”

With fond amusement, he recalls being in the condominium of his mother, Norinne, when she was 90. “She was cooking food, and she started to take it out the door. I said, ‘Where you going, Mom?’ And she said, ‘I’m taking some food to the elderly.’ I said, ‘You are the elderly.’ ”

He recalls many days driving home with his father from work (they were both attorneys in a law practice with two other Callister sons) and stopping to buy restaurant take-out food to carry to a widow or some needy person. “I grew up thinking everybody’s dad did that,” he said, “because it was just part of my dad’s life, to render service to people, and my mother’s as well.”

Father and son shared a love of missionary service. When Tad was about to be released from the Eastern Atlantic States Mission, his father was called to preside over the mission in London, England. En route, he stopped off at his son’s mission, and the two went tracting together on New Year’s Eve in Washington, D.C. The father told one of the son’s converts that she too should serve a mission. She followed that advice and later served as his mission secretary in London.

A sports enthusiast from his youth, Brother Callister played on the BYU freshman baseball team in 1963–64.

Following his mission, he would return to the university, where he met his bride-to-be, another Californian. She was from San Bernardino, a city where a hillside geologic formation resembling an Indian arrowhead points to the location of the 1861 Latter-day Saint settlement in the community. They married in 1968 and eventually were blessed with two daughters and four sons.

As the children grew, the family enjoyed playing sports and reading scriptures together. A promise in Sister Callister’s patriarchal blessing that the children would remain faithful if the family held home evening regularly motivated them to be consistent in that practice.

“My wife used flannel-board stories,” Brother Callister said. “In fact, when we were first married, we wondered what to do for family home evening. So I said to her, ‘Well, you’ve got all these flannel-board stories you’ve been saving.’ And she said, ‘Well, that would be embarrassing.’ ” But he persuaded her, and the flannel board became a staple of Callister home evenings.

The couple taught early-morning seminary, both together and individually. It was, Brother Callister said, a labor of love for both “because it forced us in a good way to learn the gospel and teach it to a very receptive group of young people. … They’re coming to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Rich experience in Church service eventually led to Brother Callister’s call as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy and as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy until his recent release.

He will sorely miss the close association he had with the other brethren, he said. “There’s great satisfaction in doing the work of the Lord with people that you love and you enjoy being around,” he said. But he looks forward to working with his counselors in the general Sunday School presidency. “It lifts a burden almost instantly when they’ve accepted and when you’ve come to the realization that these are the ones the Lord wants to serve. And I did come to the realization that John Tanner and Devin Durrant were the men the Lord wanted to serve.”

It will be up to the new presidency to implement a new adult curriculum, still in development.

“The curriculum is, of course, very important, but it’s not as important as the way people teach,” Brother Callister said. “The most important thing is that we do teach in the Savior’s way, that we teach by the Spirit, that we do teach for conversion. The curriculum is an aid to that. It’s a stepping-stone, but it’s not the end. And ultimately, we hope that all the teaching that takes place in the youth curriculum, the adult curriculum, the Gospel Principles class, whatever, will funnel into the home and that parents will become the prime gospel teachers of their children.”

Biographical information

Family: Tad Richards Callister, born September 6, 1946, in Glendale, California, to Reed Eddington and Norinne Richards Callister. Wife: Kathryn Louise Saporiti Callister. Children: Angela (Ken) Dalebout, Richard (Heather) Callister, Nathan (Bethany) Callister, Rebecca (Robert) Thompson, Jared (Yanni) Callister, Jeremy (Mandy) Callister; 24 grandchildren.

Education: Master of arts in tax law from New York University Law School, 1972. Juris doctorate from University of California–Los Angeles, 1971. Bachelor of science in accounting from Brigham Young University, 1968. Employment: tax attorney, Callister & Callister, 1972–2005; attorney, Squadron, Gartenberg, Ellenoff & Pleasant, 1971–72.

Community service: President of the Verdugo Hills Boy Scout Council in Glendale, California; director of the Hastings Foundation, a nonprofit organization assisting with the eradication of tuberculosis and other lung and pulmonary diseases.

Church service: Member of the Presidency of the Seventy, 2011–14; Second Quorum of the Seventy, 2008–14; mission president, Canada Toronto East Mission, 2005–08; Area Seventy, 2000–2005; mission presidency, California Arcadia Mission; bishop; temple ordinance worker; stake mission president; regional representative; stake president; elders quorum president; seminary teacher; missionary in the Eastern Atlantic States Mission, 1965–67.