The Panna Maria Heritage Center Foundation was established to recognize and celebrate the first 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 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 Fr. Moczygemba celebrated their first Mass in Texas, at midnight, under a large oak. 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 Silesian immigrants settled in other areas of Texas where they established Catholic Parishes including 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 Silesian settlers and the first Bishop to be descended from the 1854 Polish immigration to Texas, established the Panna Maria Heritage Foundation on August 24, 2011. The Panna Maria Heritage Center will be constructed in Panna Maria, Texas. Bishop Yanta’s dream to build a Polish heritage center, one that would record the history of the Texas Silesian immigration from the 1850s to the present, will be realized when the center opens to the public in 2016.
The Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria will relate the story of the Silesian Polish immigration to Texas, and the subsequent “Polish Renaissance” that began in the late 1960s, to rekindle a new generation’s interest in Polish and Silesian heritage. The stories will serve as a mirror to reflect the history of our nation and will act as a lens to focus on the meaning of faith, family and community.
Permanent and Temporary Exhibit Space
Genealogy Room and Oral History Collection Area
Library and Reading Room
Gift Shop and Concession Area
3,000 square feet of permanent exhibits provide interactive and immersive experiences in five main exhibit areas.
Early Poland (996 – 1854)
Immigration to Texas / Texas Silesian Settlements 1854 to Present
Texas Silesian Parishes
Twentieth Century Poland
Polish Renaissance in Texas 1966 to present
Partnerships and Educational Programs
The Heritage Center plans to broaden its reach by building local, state, national, and international partnerships with museums, libraries, schools, school districts, cities, communities, parishes, colleges, and universities.
Educational programs will be curriculum based learning activities and will include K – 12 school tours and teacher workshops.
Programs including lecture series, workshops in genealogy, Polish and Silesian culture, heritage, religion, language, music, dance, art, crafts, and food will be offered.