Panna Maria is on a plateau near the junction of the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek where Farm roads 81 and 2724 meet, four miles north of Karnes City and fifty-five miles southeast of San Antonio in central Karnes County. It claims distinction as the oldest permanent Polish settlement in America and as the home of the nation's oldest Polish church and school. In 1852 a young Franciscan missionary, Father Leopold Moczygemba, arrived in Texas to minister to German parishes in New Braunfels and Castroville. Soon he was writing his fellow Poles urging them to leave the harsh economic conditions and Prussian domination of Upper Silesia and join him in thriving Texas. In September 1854 the first group of immigrants, which included four of Moczygemba's brothers, traveled by train to Bremen, by ship to Galveston, and by foot and rented Mexican oxcart to San Antonio, to the waiting Father Moczygemba, who escorted them to the site he had chosen for their colony. Contemporary estimates of the number of these original settlers vary from 150 to 800. A few had died at sea, more on the landward trek, and some had dropped out as they passed through Texas communities along the way; one group chose to settle at Bandera. Three months after beginning their journey, the much-reduced party of settlers arrived at what was soon to be called Panna Maria, meaning "Virgin Mary." It was Christmastime, and Father Moczygemba and the settlers celebrated a Christmas Mass of thanksgiving in their new home of tall grass, live oaks, mesquite, and rattlesnakes. The land belonged to an Irishman, John Twohig, who sold it at an inflated price to the newcomers. With church funds Moczygemba purchased 238 acres, set aside twenty-five acres for a church, and parceled out the remainder to those who could not afford to buy farms.
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Panna Maria by the Numbers
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