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 Silesian region 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 descendent 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 and when it opens in Winter 2019, the Bishop’s dream will be fully realized.
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.