Saint John of Capistrano and the Swallows

Here’s a little Catholic Americana for you. Today’s saint is Saint John of Capistrano, who gives his name to the old Franciscan Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California — associated with the memory of the “Father of California,” Saint Junípero Serra.

The famous swallows that have long made the old mission their home for part of the year are the subject of a song, originally performed by the Ink Spots, that has been covered my numerous other soloists and groups over the years. Below are some YouTube videos. Note that, in the Lennon Sisters’ version, Lawrence Welk (a Catholic) mentions the fact that Saint Joseph’s day is coming, and that’s the day when the swallows return to Capistrano, which is apparently true.

Here is what the all-knowing Wikipedia has to say about the song:

“When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” is a song written by Leon René and first recorded by The Ink Spots featuring Bill Kenny in May 1940.[1]

The Ink Spots’ recording of the song reached #4 on the US charts, and a recording by Glenn Miller reached #2 the same year.[2] Other recordings were made at about the same time by Xavier Cugat and Gene Krupa. The song was later recorded by Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo, Billy May, Pat Boone—whose version reached #80 on the Billboard Top 100 Chart in 1957 (The Billboard Hot 100 Chart was established on August 4, 1958 issue), as the B-side of “April Love“—The Five Satins, Chris Blount and Elvis Presley, among many others.[3]

René wrote the song as a tribute to the annual springtime return of the cliff swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. A glassed-off room in the mission was later designated in René’s honor, and displays the upright piano on which he composed the tune, the reception desk from his office, several copies of the song’s sheet music and other pieces of furniture, all donated by René’s family.

One can read about “the Legend of the Swallows” here and here.

And here are just a few of the many renditions of the song, beginning with the Ink Spots, who originally performed it:

Glenn Miller:

Bing Crosby:

The Lennon Sisters:

Pat Boone:

  • Brian D Kelly

    Beautiful. How well I remember Lawrence Welk and the lovely Lennon sisters. My mother never missed a show. If I am not mistaken, Lawrence Welk went to the traditional Latin Mass regularly.