This building, now used as a barn, was the first Polish house in Panna Maria (c. 1858) The steep roof was a Silesian design to prevent the accumulation of snow.
History in a Pecan Shell
Panna Maria is polish for Virgin Mary. It is the oldest permanent Polish settlement in the entire U.S.
A Polish missionary Father Leo Moczygemba had been preaching to scattered immigrants around Bandera Texas in the 1840s. After witnessing the successes of his German parishioners, he decided that his fellow Poles would thrive in Texas as well. He wrote back to his father in Silesia.
The Store/Post Office was once the barn of John Twohig
The Panna Maria Visitor's Center
In 1854, the first group of immigrants arrived – including Father Leo's four brothers. The trip from Poland via Germany took a harrowing three-months.
The Panna Maria Oaks
On Christmas Eve, 1854 the immigrants huddled together from the cold and Mass was held under the Live Oak trees that stand today in the churchyard.
Father Moczygemba bought land from a banker in San Antonio named John Twohig with church money and set aside parcels for the school, church and the immigrants too poor to afford their own farms. Twohig saw them coming and sold them land at inflated prices. Land that was selling in other parts of Karnes County for 1.50 an acre were sold to the Poles for close to 6.00 per acre.
A house on main street
After a severe drought and other setbacks, Father Moczygemba was blamed for bringing the unhappy Poles there and had to leave because of threats to his life. He went to Michigan, another state with recent Polish immigrants. He died there, after years of service to the Polish community. In 1974 citizens brought his remains back to be reentered under the same tree where he once said Mass.
The name Moczygemba still is held by several Panna Marians and many stones in the cemetery are marked with the family name. One of Father Leopold's four brothers had ten children.
The Panna Maria Cemetery
To get to the Panna Maria Cemetery, go just south of the church to the large white community buildings and turn West. The road will lead straight to the cemetery gate after about a quarter mile.
The oldest part of the cemetery is obvious due to the taller and more elaborate tombstones.
The community was harassed for its perceived Union sympathies or its failure to support the Confederacy during the Civil War. The community was so isolated that strangers passing by on horseback had no idea who they were or where they were from.
At least one grave testifies that Polish immigrants did play a role in the Civil War
At least one tombstone in the cemetery shows that the Poles did participate to some degree. One young man (Albert Lyssy) served in the Confederacy, was captured, released and then placed in the Union Army where he was wounded and taken prisoner again – this time by the Confederates.
The Immaculate Conception Church
The population dwindled and the town was bypassed by the railroad.
The Community Center still serves the hundreds of former Panna Marians and descendents for various festivals and holidays.
The Catholic school has been turned over to the Karnes County ISD. It appears not to be in use.
The children's watering trough
BBQ Pit counter-weights