SALT LAKE CITY - When Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fell ill last year, church convert Nora Healey prayed.
"Every morning and every night," said Healey, of Fillmore, who, with her husband, is on a service mission for the church at its Family History Library here.
In January 2006, Hinckley, then 95, had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his colon but little was said about his condition or recovery.
Then at the spring installment of the religion's biannual conference, Hinckley said he was "in the sunset of his life," prompting speculation about his future at the head of the church.
Mormons gather twice yearly to hear faith-promoting, inspirational words from church leaders. This year's event begins Saturday, with Hinckley expected to take the podium in the first of five conference sessions.
"President Hinckley's doing great," church spokeswoman Kim Farah said Thursday.
The two-day conference draws more than 100,000 to the church conference center in downtown Salt Lake City and the proceedings are broadcast on television, radio and the Internet in 89 languages.
The April gathering last year was underscored by concern for Hinckley, who skipped giving an opening address to members for the first time in his presidency.
By October, however, a more robust, energetic Hinckley said doctors called his recovery miraculous.
"I know that the favorable results come from your many prayers on my behalf," Hinckley said. "I am deeply grateful to you."
Praying for the church president, whom Mormons revere as "prophet, seer and revelator" isn't unusual, said Don Nelson, who helps manage and train missionaries at the library. Most Mormons will include Hinckley, his counselors and other church leaders in daily prayers.
"But when he was ill, well then of course you include a special mention that he will be comforted and blessed and healed," said Nelson, of West Richland, Wash.
This year, Hinckley marks the 177th anniversary of the church's founding as the oldest-ever president of the church. He hit that mark in December, at the age of 96 years, 133 days, passing David O. McKay, who was president of the church between 1951 and 1970.
Hinckley is the 15th president of the church, a position he's held since March 1995, after the death of President Howard Hunter.
Known for his wit, warmth and delight in surprises, Hinckley also is described as a pragmatic and insightful leader.
On his watch, the church has grown to 12.5 million members worldwide, more than half outside the U.S., and increased the number of Mormon temples to 124 in 37 countries, giving more members the chance to perform sacred religious ceremonies that are central tenets of Mormon beliefs.
"He's a hard man to keep up with, he's always a step a head," said Ann Nelson, who is married to Don Nelson