In May 1843, thirteen years after the Church was organized in the United States, four men were sent by Joseph Smith to be missionaries in the islands of the Pacific. Addison Pratt, Noah Rogers, and Benjamin F. Grouard endured great hardship for six months on the whaling ship Timoleon, bound for the Society Islands, now part of French Polynesia. Knowlton F. Hanks died at sea. Pratt started alone in the small island of Tubuai, where he baptized 60 people in the first year. He is considered to be the first missionary to a foreign language area in modern Church history. He baptized many people and established a branch (a small congregation).
Rogers and Grouard went on to Tahiti, arriving at a time when religious freedom had been declared for all. Though they met with many hardships and much opposition from other religions, they were able to proselyte on more than nine islands. With Addison Pratt, who joined them later, they baptized over 1,000 before Elder Pratt's return to Salt Lake in 1848. Elder Pratt came back with his family in 1850. This promising start for the Church was halted when French government restrictions led to the mission being closed in May 1852. This expulsion of the missionaries left the Church in the Pacific islands struggling on its own for many decades.
Missionaries returning in 1892 started branches again among those who had remained stalwart, and constructed Church buildings that helped speed the work. Completion of the New Zealand Temple in 1958 was a blessing for the Tahitian Saints, who proved to be faithful attendees.
On 23 May 1963, in the worst recorded sea disaster for Latter-day Saints in the South Pacific, 15 members of the Maupiti Branch, about 160 miles northwest of Tahiti, lost their lives when the boat in which they were returning from a Church building dedication crashed on the Maupiti reef. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited the bereaved members to offer solace and comfort.
In 1964, the Church constructed an elementary school in Tahiti, and in 1972 the Tahiti stake (diocese) was organized. The Papeete Tahiti Temple was dedicated 27 October 1983. Tahiti's second stake was created in 1982, and its third stake in 1990.