Center In Texas To Tell
Story of Polish Immigration
In early December, 1854, nearly 100 Polish families sailed into Galveston on the Texas gulf coast, from there sailed to Indianola, and then trekked inland more than 200 miles to acreage secured for them by their kinsman, a Polish priest named Father Leopold Moczygemba. They finally arrived on December 24 and celebrated Midnight Mass under the sheltering branches of a great oak tree. They named their new home Panna Maria (Polish for Virgin Mary), which is now honored as the oldest permanent Polish settlement in America. It would be the first of several Polish communities that settled mostly south and east of San Antonio, but also as far away as the Texas Panhandle, as more immigrants joined their friends and countrymen in this new land.
The story of the Polish immigration to Texas, full of toil, tribulation and triumph, is the central focus of the Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria as envisioned by its founder, Bishop Emeritus John W. Yanta, a native son of the area who wants to preserve the “sacred memories of generations.” “Let’s memorialize our ancestors,” said Bishop Yanta. “We have to preserve our inherited values, share them with new generations of our families, and with pride and thanksgiving, share them with the whole world.”
Located in Panna Maria, facing the historic Immaculate Conception Church and the iconic oak tree, the 16,500 square foot Polish Heritage Center will celebrate all of the original settlements, including Panna Maria, Bandera, St. Hedwig, Yorktown, Cestohowa, Kosciusko, Falls City, McCook, White Deer, Inez, Las Gallinas and St. Michael’s in San Antonio. Their collective story is one of faith, family and community. The mission of the Polish Heritage Center is to “keep vibrant and relevant the history, values, beliefs, customs and traditions of the Polish settlers and their descendants….and to inspire, engage, and educate our visitors.”
Construction on the 16,500-square foot Center commenced on April 11, 2016 and will see completion of the building shell in early 2018. This follows years of planning and an ongoing $14 million fundraising campaign that to date has reached more than half of its goal. The next phase of the project will focus on developing the building interior where more than 3000 square feet of exhibit space will provide high-tech interactive and immersive experiences from early Polish history to the present. This will include self-guided tours in English, Polish and Spanish. An Archive and Collections area will house and preserve artifacts and documents, while the Genealogy Room and Oral History Collection will offer opportunities for visitors to access family records and photos. In addition, books in Polish and English on a variety of subjects will be available for reading and research, while an auditorium/meeting space will accommodate lectures, tours and workshops.
The Campaign Steering Committee also invites you to visit our website at www.polishheritagecenterpannamaria.org, visit our PHC Facebook page or visit Panna Maria to witness the work in progress. As a 501(c)3 tax exempt non-profit foundation, your support would be greatly appreciated. Out Tax ID# is 46-0561240. You can reach us at the Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria, PO Box 28125, San Antonio, TX 78228 or by phone at 210-263-7270 or 210-387-7472.
Submitted by John Cebrowski