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Silesian Parishes: Immaculate Conception / Panna Maria

Panna Maria


On Christmas Eve 1854, Father Leopold Moczygemba brought the Silesian immigrant families together under a live oak tree, and celebrated a Midnight Mass of thanksgiving for their safe arrival at the site that they would soon name Panna Maria. In the coming months, they cleared the brush and constructed their first rudimentary shelters. In addition, Father Moczygemba began planning the construction of a church. By May 1855, the priest and his brother John were already selecting stone for the walls. Unfortunately, the project was repeatedly delayed, due to illness among the workers, lack of resources, weather, and other factors, including the need to plant and tend crops. But, the Silesians finally completed the shell of the church in the summer of 1856. It was seventy-six feet long, and thirty-six wide. The walls were two feet thick, and twenty high. There were eight large and four small windows. The sacristy and the priest’s private room had glass in the windows, but the other windows were hung with linen. There was an altar, but no pews, and the floor was smooth sand. The only extraordinary feature in the simple structure was the crucifix. John Rzeppa had brought this artifact from Upper Silesia, where he had fashioned it with the aid of another original settler, Francis Cebula. The baptismal book recorded that Father Moczygemba blessed the crucifix during Easter Week in 1856. He later consecrated the church, and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Leopold. On the day of St. Michael, September 29, 1856, Father Moczygemba said the first Mass in Immaculate Conception, the first permanent Polish Catholic Church in the United States. In 1875, the original building was struck by lightning, and the parishioners decided to dismantle it. They carefully preserved the windows, however, and incorporated them into the new church they built on the same spot. They also saved the icons for the Stations of the Cross, and these were later placed on display at the Polish Museum of America, in Chicago. Father Moczygemba himself was on hand to bless the new cornerstone in 1877. Although he had left Panna Maria twenty years earlier, he had returned to visit his Texas relatives. When they enlarged the church in 1937, the parishioners rededicated it to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During a subsequent renovation, workers discovered that the old church possessed a decorative painted ceiling, which has been restored. Father Moczygemba was buried in Detroit, where he had died in 1891. Decades later, the people of Panna Maria campaigned to bring his mortal remains back to the town he had founded. During a prayerful ceremony in 1974, Father Moczygemba was reinterred near the oak that still stands beside the Immaculate Conception church. 

Parish News

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Then and Now

Opportunities for photo scanning sessions and oral histories sharing will be posted in this area.