Memorial of St. John Capistrano

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If you are a birder, take note of this saint whose name is forever bound in the United States with the swallows that make their home in the California Franciscan missions. October 23 is the day when the swallows began their southward migration from Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. The swallows return north to the mission on March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day.

Capistrano, a Franciscan priest who lived from 1386-1456, seems an unlikely choice to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis. He began his adult life as a successful lawyer and politician. (He was the mayor of Perugia, Italy.)

Popes and kings called on Capistrano to help broker peace and negotiate treaties.

During a war between Perugia and the Maletestas he was taken prisoner. In his cell, Capistrano underwent a profound conversion. Once freed, he rode about the countryside on a donkey — his face to the donkey’s tail — wearing a paper hat on which he had written his worst sins for all to read. Stop for a moment and try to imagine any contemporary politician abasing him or herself in this way. Capistrano put aside spin, and sin, and went in this way to ask permission to become a Franciscan novice.

He was known for his simple life. He went barefoot, slept only three or four hours a night and wore a hair shirt. But his political and intellectual skills were not lost. He became the student and disciple of St. Bernardine of Siena, whose feast day is May 20. With Bernardine, Capistrano helped reform the Franciscan order. Popes and kings called on Capistrano to help broker peace and negotiate treaties. He preached and taught and wrote an account of his long, interesting and curious life.

Fill your bird feeders today in honor of St. John Capistrano. You can make simple bird feeders with children. Stringing whole grain oat cereal, like Cheerios, on pipe cleaners, makes the simplest bird feeder. Leave enough of the pipe cleaner, about 2 inches, uncovered at each end so that, when the cereal is on the pipe, you can take the two ends and twist them together. Hang the bird feeder circles on tree branches and find a place to watch the birds come and feed.

If you have more time, and patience, you can make cookie cutter bird feeders.

What you’ll need:

  • bird seed
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • measuring cup
  • bowl
  • cookie cutters
  • wax paper
  • straws
  • scissors
  • string

What you’ll do:

  1. Mix the unflavored gelatin and 1/3 cup water in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  2. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave (be careful, it may be hot!).
  3. Once the gelatin has cooled enough to safely touch, pour in 1 cup of birdseed. Kids can mix the gelatin and the birdseed together with their hands.
  4. Lay out a piece of wax paper and place the cookie cutters on top of it.
  5. Press the birdseed mixture into the cookie cutters.
  6. Cut your straws in half and place one half of the straw in each cookie cutter to make a hole. Leave the straw in until the birdseed has hardened.
  7. Let the bird seed harden overnight, then remove the cookie cutter and the straw.
  8. Cut a 6-inch piece of string and thread it through the hole, then hang the bird feeder outside.

(Thanks to the good folks at the blog SheKnows for these craft ideas.)