By Jan Siegel
So much for March/April being a very busy time in San Juan Capistrano. We have changed March Madness for Spring Sadness as we all try to get through the coronavirus pandemic. All meetings, events, celebrations and get-togethers are on hold as we try to survive this devastating illness. We can only hope that all of our efforts work and that that we are all safe.
But we are resilient, and during the Passover/Easter season, we can look back on the history of our community that has survived.
One hundred years ago, in 1920, Mission San Juan Capistrano was the center of life in San Juan Capistrano. Gertrude Rios, grandmother of current Rios Adobe owner Stephen Rios, was a very active participant at the Mission. In her front yard of the Rios Adobe, she raised flowers specifically to decorate the altar in Serra Chapel. She also washed all of the priests’ vestments by hand and washed and ironed the altar cloths used for Mass. Gertrude Rios went to church for Mass three times a day: at 6:00 a.m., at 10 a.m. and to evening rosary.
Fr. St. John O’Sullivan was the assigned priest at the Mission in 1920. But many priests from the Los Angeles dioceses, to which the Mission belonged, would visit and became very familiar with Gertrude Rios and her devotion to the church.
Before he retired, one elderly priest went to visit the Pope in Rome, and he decided to go to the Holy Land. When he was climbing the Mount of Olives, he thought of Gertrude Rios and all that she was doing for the church. He wanted to bring her back a souvenir, so he purchased a twig from the Mount of Olives, put it in his suitcase and brought it back to San Juan Capistrano. “Mrs. Rios could not have been more pleased,” said her son, Dan, the current owners’ father. She was so pleased that she planted the small twig right in the middle of her front yard. The twig grew, and today the olive tree is fully grown, and everyone who walks by the Rios Adobe can see it. The tree is not only a family memory but a community reminder of a very special woman who lived in our town 100 years ago.
The Mount of Olives brings special meaning to these troubled times. In Biblical times, in King David’s day, the summit of the Mount of Olives was a place where “God worshipped.” It is also the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. As we celebrate Passover and Easter without the usual big family gatherings that we are used to, spend a “Moment in Time” and stroll down Los Rios Street, stop and notice the olive tree in the Rios front yard and remember a place on Earth that can bring people together and a place in San Juan Capistrano that can bring a community together.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.