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Silesian Parishes: Annunciation of BVM / St. Hedwig

St. Hedwig


Most of the Silesians who arrived by ship in Texas made the overland trek from the coast to San Antonio, and then carried on towards Panna Maria. Yet, a few decided to settle elsewhere. For example, although Martin and Francisca Pierdolla, and Joseph and Francisca Michalski, reportedly attended Father Leopold Moczygemba’s historic midnight Mass in Panna Maria, they soon came to think that another area, a little more than a dozen miles east of San Antonio, was more attractive. The community was located on the Martinez watershed and therefore came to be called “Martinez.” In December 1855, they and other newly arrived immigrants met Johann Demmer, a German who had come to Texas a few years prior to the founding of Panna Maria. He told them that there was good land available in the John Springer Survey, near the convergence of Martinez and Cibolo Creeks, less than twenty miles east of San Antonio. The Silesians formed a committee to examine the area, and they returned with a favorable report. Fewer than twenty families chose to forgo Panna Maria for the new location on Martinez Creek. They arrived to find that there was already a Pole living nearby, Joseph Dornstin, who has been confused in some accounts with Demmer. Dornstin was said to be an exile from the failed Polish Insurrection of 1830. Whatever the circumstances of his departure from Europe, he had reportedly come to Texas about 1835, and settled in Bexar County in 1852. Known locally for his honesty, Dornstin was a natural advisor to the Silesians in their dealings with Charles G. Napier, who sold them 772 acres of his plantation. Over the next few years, more Silesian families settled in the area, although Father Moczygemba continued to argue that Panna Maria was the superior choice, especially for farming. In 1858, Moczygemba stated in a letter that, while the Martinez area possessed fertile soil, it was not located near any perennial streams. He did not foresee that its closer proximity to San Antonio’s agricultural markets would ultimately make this one of the more prosperous Silesian towns.
A log cabin served as the church for the first dozen years of the Martinez settlement (it was built on land owned by Ludwig Zaiontz, and the congregation depended on his continued willingness to allow them to use it). Priests from Panna Maria’s Immaculate Conception church visited periodically, in order to serve the immigrants’ spiritual needs. The first priest to “ride circuit” in this way, from 1857 to 1863, was Father Julian Przysiecki, who performed the first baptism in the new settlement on December 2, 1857. Przysiecki fell from his horse and died on November 25, 1863, and his was the first burial to appear in the Martinez church records. Przysiecki’s death left the Silesians of Texas without a Polish-speaking priest, a situation that continued until 1866, when the priests of the Congregation of the Resurrection arrived in Texas. In Panna Maria, these priests—Fathers Vincent Barzynski and Felix Zwiardowski—led the effort to build a permanent school, St. Joseph’s. In the Martinez settlement, they promoted the construction of a stone church. Other priests involved in the project include Fathers Theophil Bralewski and Adolf Snigurski. The clerics envisioned a church with a proper rectory, school, convent, and cemetery, which meant that a larger tract of land was required. They began to solicit pledges of support from the community in 1868, and parishioner Anton Kosub was elected to keep an accounting. Donations of real estate by several adjacent landowners shared the burden, allowed for a road, and give parishioners unquestioned access. Moreover, by building it approximately one mile southeast of the original wooden church, the new stone structure was on a public road through the village, where it could become a unifying feature for what had been a scattered group of farms. The cornerstone for the new church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was dedicated on April 25, 1868. It was at about this time that the community took the name St. Hedwig, after the patron Saint of Silesia. The land pledged for the church and cemetery (property that was part of the initial purchase from Napier) was conveyed to the Bishop of Galveston on February 7, 1871. For many years, Polish-speaking nuns taught in the school. Indeed, the catechism was taught in Polish until 1920. The experience of discrimination during World War I had revealed the disadvantages of remaining too segregated from Anglo culture. Even so, the Stations of the Cross were explained in Polish as late as 1955. St. Hedwig expanded rapidly until the 1890s, when it was bypassed by the railroad. The population declined during the early twentieth century, but eventually began to grow again, slowly but steadily, reaching nearly seven hundred by the time St. Hedwig was incorporated in the 1970s. In 2000, the population was recorded as 1875. 

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