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Silesian Parishes: St. Michael’s Cemetery / San Antonio

San Antonio

 

History

The first Silesian families had arrived in San Antonio within the octave of St. Michael’s feast day in 1854, and the immigrants decided that he would be their patron saint. St. Michael’s in San Antonio was the third Polish Catholic church in the United States, following Immaculate Conception in Panna Maria (1854) and St. Stanislaus in Bandera (1855, although some sources refer to Annunciation BVM in St. Hedwig, also established in 1855, as the second). St. Michael’s parish was established on November 8, 1866, when a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection, Father Vincent Barzynski, arrived from Rome. During the previous eleven years, the priest from Panna Maria had traveled to San Antonio to minister to the Polish Catholics who had settled in the city. During those years, San Antonio’s approximately forty Polish families attended Mass at San Fernando Cathedral (St. Michael’s was the third Catholic church in San Antonio, after San Fernando and St. Mary’s). In fact, Father Barzynski celebrated the first Mass of the new parish in San Fernando (apparently, he had to rent the church by the hour when he wanted to hold the Polish services). In December 1866, Barzynski rented a stone building owned by Emanuel Rzeppa on the northeast corner of Matagorda and Goliad Streets. The original congregation of some forty-four families worshipped there, until their new church could be built. By early 1867, Father Barzynski had already collected fifteen hundred dollars from his parishioners. He purchased four city lots at the corner of South Street and Indianola from Erasmus Florian, and they began construction. Each family was assessed $100, but, if they could not spare such a sum, they could pledge the equivalent in labor. They completed the combined church, school, and rectory, constructed of stone, in less than a year. On January 5, 1868, Father Adolph Bakanowski, vicar general of the Polish Resurrectionist missions in Texas, blessed the new church buildings.
Father Barzynski served as pastor until January 1873. When his brother, Father Joseph Barzynski, arrived in San Antonio, Father Vincent transferred to St. Hedwig. Other pastors of St. Michael’s in the early years were Stanislaus Wojciechowski, Felix Zwiardowski, Adelbertus Pelizar, Louis Dombrowski, and Bernard Zmijewski. In early 1878, the San Antonio city council deeded property to the Church at the corner of Palmetto and Center Streets (in the Eastside Cemetery District), to allow the congregation to establish St. Michael’s cemetery. In 1912, Father Thomas Moczygemba became pastor at St. Michael’s, and he remained there until his death in 1950. The son of Father Leopold Moczygemba’s brother Joseph, Thomas Moczygemba had been born in Panna Maria on December 11, 1863. Thomas attended Victoria Seminary, and was ordained on January 5, 1890, becoming the first native Texan to be ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Under his direction, the original church (which had been remodeled and enlarged twice) was torn down. A white brick, twin-towered Gothic church was built as the new St. Michael’s. Father Moczygemba and about sixty-five families funded the entire project. The cornerstone of was blessed and laid on July 4, 1922. Bishop Arthur Drossaerts officiated at the dedication of the Church on October 25. Father Moczygemba was honored at St. Michael’s Church on January 5, 1950, to mark his impending sixtieth anniversary since ordination. The “First Native Texan Priest” died on June 28, 1950.
In 1965, the San Antonio Urban Renewal Project purchased the parish’s property for $370,000, so that the land could be used for the upcoming world’s fair (or international exposition), HemisFair ‘68. The 750-foot-tall Hemisphere Tower, also known as the “Tower of the Americas,” now stands on the original site of St. Michael’s. The Church’s marble altars, communion rail, and stained glass windows were relocated to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. A new site was chosen southeast of the original location, and the brick building was dedicated in 1967. The majority of the current parishioners are Hispanic. 

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