2021 Mass of Remembrance at Old Mission Historic Cemetery

Thank you to all who came out for our 11th Annual Historic Cemetery Mass of Remembrance and Gathering. Below are articles posted about this event along with images for all of you to enjoy. What a historic day! It was so wonderful to see all of you there. Thank you for coming to honor and pray for all those who have gone before us.

Orange County Register

San Juan Capistrano, CA
Descendants, OC bishop gather to celebrate ancestors at cemetery mass
By Tess Sheets
Sunday, November 7, 2021
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San Juan Capistrano descendants, OC bishop gather to celebrate ancestors at mass

On the road to San Juan Capistrano’s Old Mission Cemetery on Friday, where Jerry Nieblas was setting up for an annual mass celebrating ancient families of the area, he said he felt emotional when he arrived to see friends fixing up their loved one’s gravesites.

The roadside by the cemetery was packed with cars, clogging the small street.

“I was blown away when I drove up to the hill,” he said.

For the 11th time, the event would join together the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and the Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee for a tribute to the generations of families buried at the old cemetery, who are descendants of San Juan Capistrano’s earliest residents. But Saturday’s mass was “extra special,” Nieblas said. For starters, it was the first one in two years, after Nieblas had to cancel the 2020 mass because of the pandemic — a decision he “held out to the very end” before making, he said.

blessing during the annual Remembrance Mass

From left, Naomi Knox, of Anaheim, and Domingo Belardes, of San Juan Capistrano, members of the Acjachemen tribe, also known as the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, preside over a blessing during the annual Remembrance Mass at Old Mission Cemetery in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday.


And this year, the event was hosted by the Rev. Bishop Kevin Vann, marking the first time any bishop has attended. Vann’s participation was significant, Nieblas said because it symbolizes his recognition of “the sacredness and the holiness of this site.”

“He’s recognizing us, he’s hearing us and he’s with us,” Nieblas said. “And that is so important to us right now. We needed our bishop. In this time of so much turmoil all over the place, we need our bishop to say, ‘I’m with you guys, I’m with you, I stand with you.'” The cemetery off Ortega Highway serves as the final resting place for San Juan Capistrano families who are descended from the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, and early settlers, with gravesites dating back to 1830. A private cemetery, those who are buried there must have direct ties to the original families of the area.

Nieblas himself is a descendant of the Acjachemen villages that pre-dated Mission San Juan Capistrano, as well as the Yorba and Rios ranch families, he said. Six generations of his family are buried at the Old Mission Cemetery.

Situated upon a hill in between the Oso and San Juan creeks, the site is sacred ground where on a clear day, one may be able to see the ocean and the nearby mission, Nieblas said.

“That connection, where they needed to look down on their motherland and on their mother church, the mission, was very, very important,” he said of the area’s early dwellers. “That all contributes to the importance of this site.”

The grounds were taken over in 2010 by the Diocese of Orange, which briefly halted burials while it worked to figure out how much space was still available. Right now, Nieblas estimates about 20 to 25 spaces are left for coffins, and they’ll be reserved for elders. Families that opt for cremations can have remains placed on top of their ancestors’ sites, too, he said.

After taking over, the diocese helped improve the maintenance of the cemetery by fixing headstones and clearing trees. Eagle Scouts have taken on numerous projects to benefit the ceremony such as building benches, making crosses for children buried there, and creating a new veterans memorial.

On the site’s landmark cross — a piece erected in the 1930s that was stabilized by an Eagle Scout volunteer about five years ago — a figure of Jesus was installed recently thanks to donations. At the mass Saturday, Bishop Vann formally blessed the “Corpus Christi.”

After calling off the celebration last year, Nieblas said there was a “huge sadness” in the community, which had come to appreciate the tradition.

“It’s one time that we can gather and celebrate and come together as a people,” he said. “And we can celebrate who we are. We can let the community know we’re still here.”

Reverend Bishop Kevin Vann leads communion

Reverend Bishop Kevin Vann leads communion during the annual Remembrance Mass at Old Mission Cemetery in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday.


The Capistrano Dispatch

San Juan Capistrano, CA
Community Mass Honors the Ancestors of San Juan Capistrano

By Capo Dispatch
November 5, 2021
By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

San Juan Capistrano is a town steeped in tradition, and whose longtime residents believe in paying tribute to their historic forebearers.

That legacy will continue on Saturday, Nov. 6, when members of the community with ancestral ties to San Juan will gather at Old Mission Historic Cemetery for a memorial Catholic Mass to honor those who came before them. Regional religious officials, including a bishop and priests with historical connections to the land, will be at the memorial.

“We’re gathering to remember our ancestors on this occasion because it’s our 11th annual Mass,” said Los Rios Historic District resident Jerry Nieblas, whose grandparents and other ancestors are buried at the site. “I won’t restrict anybody from coming to this Mass. I don’t believe in the walls. I believe the walls need to come down.”

Review the full article below!

Community Mass Honors the Ancestors of San Juan Capistrano

Photo Gallery

Images taken by Linda Ivanov