Leaving their comfortable weather in Calgary, Canada, the Mazovia Polish Song and Dance Association traveled more than 2,000 miles to Panna Maria, right into the heat of South Texas on June 6. The group was in Texas to perform at the Texas Folklife Festival June 7-9 but made a point of visiting the first and oldest permanent Polish settlement in the United States.
They were greeted in Panna Maria at the Polish Heritage Center, which is nearing completion as fundraising continues. PHC Directors, Betty Kowalik, Laura Dylla, and John Wojtasczyk conducted a tour of the Center which will offer archives, library, and exhibits highlighting the stories and images of the early Polish settlements and their descendants. "More than one quarter million descendants still live in Texas," said Wojtasczyk.
The visit included time inside the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church where the Panna Maria Historical Society President, Joyce Rives, and PHC Community Champion, Dylan Bussleman shared church and community history. Each visitor had the privilege of sitting quietly in the same altar chair used by Pope John Paul II during his visit to San Antonio in 1987. When asked which one of the students hoped to be Pope someday, at least one raised his hand.
The visitors toured the nearby St. Joseph School museum where they read the names of the earliest Polish settlers in Texas who were listed on an 1854 ship manifest. They recognized many of the surnames. "You have a lot of cousins around here," Rives told them.
Texas appeared much different than expected, the Canadian performers said. "We thought Texas would be a flat, wild, desert," said one of the visitors. "It's much greener and more beautiful than we imagined."
The tour was followed by a visit to see real Texas longhorn cattle at Randy Pawelek's ranch before lunch at the Pollock Restaurant in Falls City. Photos by Elaine Mazurek Stephens.