Event Info | Event Schedule | Ticket Info | Swallows Lecture | Swallows Legend

St. Joseph's Day St. Joseph's Day

St. Joseph’s Day and the Return of the Swallows Celebration is a historic tradition that was started by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920s. Don’t miss this world renowned celebration held each year on March 19th, marking the return of our famous swallows to Capistrano and the coming of spring- a time of renewal and rebirth.


St. Joseph's Day will be held on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

T his annual celebration includes:

  • Ringing of the historic bells
  • Live mariachi music
  • Community presentations
  • Special Guest Lecture On Cliff Swallows
  • Mission Basilica School performances
  • San Juan Elementary performances
  • Flamenco dance performances
  • History of St. Joseph's Day and Swallows Legend

Click here to download the event program and schedule of events

More to see and do on St. Joseph's Day you won't want to miss:

  • Food vendors serving Mexican food, pizza, and more.
  • Native American Basketweavers
  • Activities for kids including Adobe Brick making and Panning for gold
  • Swallows Vocalization Experiment in progress (Read More)

Learn more about the origination of this annual celebration!




Cost of General Admission to this Signature Event is:
$10 for Adults, $9 for Seniors (60+) and $6 for Children (Ages 4-11)
FREE for Mission Preservation Society Members and Current Volunteers with I.D., and Children 3 and under.

General Admission Tickets are available now, in person at our Gate House which is open 363 days per year. They may be purchased in advance or on event day. Reserved Seating is not offered for this event.

Lecture Reservations:

Two special guest lectures will take place on St. Joseph’s Day:

12:30 – 1:30: “Junipero Serra: His Life, His Legacy and the Missions” Special Presentation by David Bolton, Executive Director of California Missions Foundation

2:00 – 3:00: “Coloniality, social behavior, and urban living in the cliff swallow” – Dr. Charles R. Brown, University of Tulsa (Learn more about Dr. Brown below).

Please RSVP if you will plan to attend either lecture as seating is limited. Attendance is still possible without a reservation, but early arrival is recommended to get a seat. Please RSVP by calling (949) 234-1321 or emailing crobinson@missionsjc.com.

Suggested Donation for Lectures: $5 to help make these programs possible.


Dr. Charles Brown
Renowned Cliff Swallows Expert

Dr. Charles R. Brown,
Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Tulsa
, has studied more than 200,000 cliff swallows over the last 28 years.

Enjoy these books by Charles R. Brown:
Swallows Summer

This book is about a passion for birds, but it is also about the personal challenges of scientific research. Click here to purchase.

Coloniality in the Cliff Swallows
Brown investigates twenty-six social and ecological costs and benefits of coloniality, many never before addressed in a systematic way for any species. Click here to purchase.

Renowned Cliff Swallows Expert , Dr. Charles R. Brown
How Cliff Swallows Choose Where to Live
Space is limited in this lecture, RSVP today.
Article courtesy of Phi Kappa Phi Forum


History of St. Joseph's Day and the Swallows Legend


The swallows are said to migrate annually to Goya, Argentina in October, and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March. The Swallows celebration began centuries ago when Mission padres observed that the birds return roughly coincided with St. Joseph's Day on the church calendar, March 19. The celebration has achieved international prominence since then.

In his book, Capistrano Nights, Father St. John O'Sullivan, Pastor of Mission San Juan Capistrano 1910-33, relates how the swallows first came to call the Mission home. One day, while walking through town, Fr. O'Sullivan saw a shopkeeper, broomstick in hand, knocking down the conically shaped mud swallow nests that were under the eaves of his shop. The birds were darting back and forth through the air squealing over the destruction of their homes.

"What in the world are you doing?" Fr. O'Sullivan asked.

"Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!" the shopkeeper responded.

"But where can they go?"

"I don't know and I don't care," he replied, slashing away with his pole. "But they've no business here, destroying my property"

Fr. O'Sullivan then said, "Come on swallows, I'll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There's room enough there for all."

The very next morning, the padre discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside the newly restored sacristy of Father Serra's Church. Another favorite spot was the ruins of the Great Stone Church, which was once lined with hundreds of swallows' nests.

Fr. O'Sullivan noticed that the small birds migrated south in the autumn and returned to the Mission in spring on St. Joseph's Day, March 19th. Upon their arrival, the swallows immediately went to work patching up their old nests, building new ones, and disputing possession of others with 'vagrant sparrow families' as they may have taken up illegal quarter there during the swallows' absence.

With a great flutter of wings, the swallows would peck at the soil, fly with a bit of it from the old Mission lagoon to the northeast of the buildings. Using the water they made a paste of the earth in their beaks, amid more fluttering of wings at the pond's edge. They then flew to the eaves of the Mission to deliver their loads of mud plaster for the walls of their inverted houses, and, as O'Sullivan observed, "receive the noisy congratulations of their mates".

One of Fr. O' Sullivan's companions at the Mission, José de Gracia Cruz, known as Acú, told Fr. O'Sullivan many stories and legends of the Mission. Acú, a descendent of the Juaneño band of Mission Indians, was the Mission's bell ringer until his death in 1924, and spent long hours under the Mission's famed pepper tree making various items from leather.

One of Acú's most colorful tales was that of the swallows (or las golondrinas as he called them). Acú believed that the swallows flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Jerusalem each winter. In their beaks they carried little twigs, on which they could rest on water when tired.



Mission Swallow Policy Statement:
Our signature swallow consists of an illustrative fork tail swallow, in-flight. This type of swallow art is unique to the Mission San Juan Capistrano brand because of its popularity in the 1930s and usage in vintage and historic memorabilia. The American public, and even the world at large has come to associate the Mission San Juan Capistrano landmark as the home of these famed birds. When the Mission portrays the literal swallows, we use the photographic, authentic and real life image. In graphic form, we use the romantic version, fork tailed, in-flight swallow.




Mission San Juan Capistrano plans fun, day and night for the whole family! For event dates and times, visit our calendar.

Underwriting and sponsorships available for all events, for more information please contact Christine Robinson at (949) 234-1321.

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