Our History

The Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria (PHCPM) Foundation was established to recognize and celebrate the Polish immigration to South Texas, beginning with the first permanent Polish settlement in the United States at Panna Maria, Texas in 1854.

The first families came to Texas from the culturally distinct southwest area of present day Poland called Silesia.  They came to escape Prussian oppression and establish a new life at the invitation of a young Polish missionary priest, Father Leopold Moczygemba, who was ministering to the German-speaking Catholics in Texas.

The immigrants arrived at their yet unnamed future settlement on Christmas Eve, 1854 where Father Moczygemba celebrated their first Mass in Texas, at midnight, under a large oak tree.  They named the settlement Panna Maria (Virgin Mary in Polish) and established the Immaculate Conception Church, the first Polish parish in the United States. In the following years, immigrants from the Polish region of Silesia settled in other areas of Texas where they established parishes in Cestohowa, Kosciusko, Bandera, St. Hedwig, Falls City, Yorktown, San Antonio, Meyersville, Las Gallinas, White Deer, and McCook.

Bishop John W. Yanta, a descendant of those first settlers and the first Bishop to be descended from the 1854 Polish immigration to Texas, established the Heritage Center Foundation on August 24, 2011.  His dream is to build a Polish heritage center that would record the history of the trials and triumphs experienced by his ancestors beginning in the 1850s and extending to the present. The Center was blessed in October 2014.

The Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria will relate the story of the Polish immigration to Texas and the subsequent “Polish Renaissance” that began in the late 1960s that rekindled a new generation’s interest in their Polish heritage.  The stories told in the Center will serve as a mirror that reflects the history of the Polish people in South Texas, our place in American history, and our bedrock foundation found in faith, family, and community.

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Our Founder, Bishop John W. Yanta, under the same oak tree where, in 1854, the Polish settlers celebrated their first Mass in Texas at midnight on Christmas Eve. He is holding the wedding and baptism certificates from his ancestors who received Sacraments at Panna Maria.

“Throughout the history of Poland from April 14, 966 A.D., the Polish people have endured many hardships and oppression from their neighboring countries, the Tartars and the Ottomans. However, the Poles are a resilient people that have helped to change the world through the contributions of Nicolaus Copernicus, Marie Skłodowska Curie, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Kazimierz Pułaski, Lech Wałęsa, and Saint John Paul II. (See below). With the partitioning of Poland by Prussia, Austria, and Russia from 1792 until 1918, the Polish people were subject to nationalization by the occupying country, but their faith and self-identity were never lost. During the communist times (1945 to 1989) of Russian control, Poland continued to maintain its faith and Polish identity overcoming the communists and their doctrine.

It is truly a tribute to their Polish pride that the Polish people were able to maintain their Catholic faith, language, traditions, customs and family values throughout the course of time. No matter which country or government was in control of the Polish people, they always maintained their Polish identity through their strength, resiliency, and faith in God.

The Polish pride can be strongly felt within the Polish National Anthem, “Mazurek Dąbrowskiego” that Poland will not perish so long as we live! To this day, we continue to value our Polish Heritage passed down from our ancestors as a blessing and a priceless treasure!”

—Jim Mazurkiewicz, PhD, Regents Fellow, Professor and Leadership Program Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications, Texas A&M University, President, Polish American Council of Texas.

Famous Poles L-R: Chopin, Curie, St. John Paul II, Copernicus, Pulaski, Kosciuszko, Lech Walesa in Panna Maria, Texas, Lech Walesa in Poland.