The Spring arrival of cliff swallows at the Mission San Juan Capistrano after their migration journey of thousands of miles from Argentina has been celebrated for decades—and after a hiatus due to COVID, the celebrations resumed once again on March 19. Legend has it that Father St. John O’Sullivan invited the swallows to come to the Mission San Juan Capistrano sometime around 1920, with the promise that they would be protected and cared for, and they’ve come ever since.
The returning swallows, along with the liturgical feast day of St. Joseph and approach of spring, were celebrated with tours and family-friendly festivities at the Mission. A St. Josephs’ Day Mass was held in the Mission Basilica, on the same campus.
“This is a day we welcome back the faithful, the weary, families, friends, to come together in joy for an experience rooted in tradition, purpose and meaning,” said Mechelle Lawrence Adams, executive director of the historic San Juan Capistrano chapel, landmark and museum. A Swallows Day parade was held on March 12, and the March 19 events featured demonstrations, tours, performances, activities for kids and food.
“We are excited to offer families convenient opportunities for on-site dining from local restaurateurs Las Olindias and 3:16 Bakery Shop,” Adams said.
A new exhibit entitled “Journey to Renewal” was on display, featuring “historic and liturgical artworks that have been conserved as a result of the generosity of Jan and Warren Siegel, long-time Mission supporters and friends,” explained Adams.
And a new five-language audio tour called “Finding Inspiration: The Gardens at Mission San Juan Capistrano” was also available. This helped visitors appreciate the 10-acre grounds of gardens, water fountains and preserved adobe architecture.
A virtual talk about the swallows was given by Charles R. Brown, Ph.D., of the University of Tulsa.
SWALLOWS DAY AT HISTORIC MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRAO ON MARCH 19 FEATURED TOURS, DEMONSTRATIONS, LOCAL VENDORS AND FAMILY FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“His lectures are always well received, and he speaks to the tradition of the famed birds’ migratory habits and the state of the environmental impacts on the Mission’s swallows,” said Adams.
Demonstrations of Native American basket weaving took place, as well as dancing, though in smaller groups than in previous years for the safety of the entertainers.
Saint Joseph, the devoted and loving father of Jesus, was also honored.
“We also host a St. Josephs’ Day table which features the opportunity for the public to make donations to help feed the poor and hungry in our community,” said Adams. “This is a newer tradition that has great merit and is well received as people recognize that it is a Catholic feast day that also calls us to view it as an opportunity to do good works and come together as a community for others.”
The historic Serra Chapel, where St. Serra celebrated Mass, was open for quiet reflection, since the season of Lent has already begun. Many visitors who come for Swallows Day have never before seen Mission San Juan Capistrano.
“Most people who visit on this day are usually new to the old Mission,” said Adams. “Many are Catholic and want to do something special on St. Joseph’s Day.”
It is a free member event, she explained, meaning there is no extra charge for the members of the Mission Preservation Society.
“We welcome the public at large to put the visit to the Mission on March 19 on their bucket list,” said Adams.
This year the event began with a 10 a.m. welcome by Adams and members of the local Acjachemen (Indigenous) community for visitors to the Mission, which was established in 1776.
“The noon bell ringing, singing of the National Anthem, the virtual lecture, station tours, food and sweet treats featured by local vendors and business make this a wholesome family experience,” said Adams. “Behind the Mission walls, guests can find inspiration, education and see preservation in action. The highlight, she said, is “the ringing of the majestic Mission bells.”
At the heart of it all is the phenomenon of returning swallows.
“The birds have done a great favor to the Mission by reminding people that it is truly worth a visit,” said Adams, “and one that can be made any time of the year, and of course on special traditional events.”
As COVID cases decline, Adams is looking ahead to a full season for the Mission.
“Saint Joseph’s Day 2022 marks the first of many events to return, including our Mariachi Festival, summer concerts, outdoor theatre with South Coast Repertory and more. We even host a special Memorial Day “Field of Honor” featuring 400 American flags sponsored to celebrate those who have served in our nation’s military or are first responders. The return of the swallows and St. Joseph’s Day bodes well for our Mission’s future.”
To learn about the Mission, visit www.missionsjc.com.