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.
|The Panna Maria
Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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
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
Eve, 1854 the immigrants huddled together from the cold and Mass
was held under the Live Oak trees that stand today in the churchyard.
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
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
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
Tombstone with Sculpture
TE photo, May 2001
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 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.
least one grave testifies that Polish immigrants did play a role in
the Civil War
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
Photo, May 2001
BBQ Pit counter-weights
Within 5 miles
are Helena (another ghost
town) to the East, and Cestohowa
to the North.
Antonio, take Hwy 181 South to FM 81; or take Hwy 87 South to
Hwy 80 South to Helena
to FM 81. Approximately 60 miles drive.
Book Hotel Here
Snakebitten Legacy by Clay Coppedge
Father Leopold Moczygemba, who founded the country’s first Polish
community, first Polish Catholic School and who also consecrated
the first Polish Catholic Church, was one person who had to pay
a price in his own time for an honored place in history...more
from South Texas
A bit of information for the small town of McCook.
From what I have gathered, McCook was established by some Polish
folks that moved down from Panna Maria, Texas. They established
a small farming community in south Texas and built a nice church.
The folks in McCook are a fine bunch and right neighborly. I grew
up in Edinburg,
about twenty five miles from McCook. I still remember some the the
names of the Polish students that came from McCook. We had the Kotzurs,
the Pavelics, the Pilarziks, the Pavlickas, the Sekulas and the
Kellers to name a few.... more
- Richard Sanchez, August 20, 2006
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Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history
and vintage/historic photos, please contact