A few years ago, Joseph Bottum lamented the loss of the swallows at Mission San Juan Capistrano, comparing the loss of the swallows to the loss of a vibrant—if quirky—Catholic Culture:
There’s a figure in all this—a metaphor, perhaps, or a synecdoche—for the condition of American Catholicism. Its long history, certainly, from the Spanish colonial beginnings on. But, most of all, San Juan Capistrano seems an image for recent decades—because sometime around 1970, the leaders of the Catholic Church in America took a stick and knocked down all the swallows’ nests.
They had their reasons. What was anyone to make of those endless 1950s sodalities and perpetual-adoration societies, the Mary Day processions, the distracting rosaries shouted out during the mumbled Latin Masses? The tangle and confusion of all the discalced, oblated, friar-minored, Salesianed, Benedictined, Cistercianed communities of monks and nuns?
The arcanery of decorations on albs and chasubles, the processions of Holy Water blessings, the grottos with their precarious rows of fire-hazard candles flickering away in little red cups, the colored seams and peculiar buttons that identified monsignors, the wimpled school sisters, the tiny Spanish grandmothers muttering prayers in their black mantillas, the First Communion girls wrapped up in white like prepubescent brides, the mumbled Irish prejudices, the loud Italian festivals, the Holy Door indulgences, the pocket guides to Thomistic philosophy, the Knights of Columbus with their cocked hats and comic-opera swords, the tinny mission bells, the melismatic chapel choirs—none of this was the Church, some of it actually obscured the Church, and the decision to clear out the mess was not unintelligent or uninformed or unintended.
It was merely insane. An entire culture nested in the crossbeams and crannies, the nooks and corners, of the Catholic Church. And it wasn’t until the swallows had been chased away that anyone seemed to realize how much the Church itself needed them, darting around the chapels and flitting through the cathedrals. They provided beauty, and eccentricity, and life. What they did, really, was provide Catholicism to the Catholic Church in America, and none of the multimedia Masses and liturgical extravaganzas in the years since—none of the decoy nests and artificial puddles—has managed to call them home. All the mission bells will ring, / The chapel choir will sing, / When the swallows come back to Capistrano.
Maybe so. Or maybe the swallows have just found better digs. The Orange County Register reports (hat tip Margaret Cabaniss over at InsideCatholic) that this year the swallows bypassed the Mission heading instead for the brand new Vallano Country Club:
The private community boasts a golf course designed by Greg Norman, 200 luxury homes, and a spacious clubhouse with nest-worthy stucco high off the ground. (Click here for map.)
Facility director Travis Blaylock says the birds’ arrival took everyone by surprise.
“I saw a few one day and then it’s like they went and told all their friends, ‘Hey, I found the spot.’”
But perhaps there is a figure in this as well.