Panna Maria, Texas
Panna Maria is on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest permanent Polish settlement in America. It is certainly the mother of Polish settlements in Texas. The town was established in December, 1854 by Polish Catholics because of a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The immigrants named their new town Panna Maria, meaning Virgin Mary in Polish. Early years of the colony were severely difficult due to the plague of disease, climate extremes and outlaws who infested the region. Neighboring cowboys often ridiculed the strange, non-English-speaking foreigners. The community established the first Polish school in the United States, and other villages like Cestohowa, Pawelekville and Kosciusko sprang from this original settlement.
Today, the older generation still speaks an antiquated Silesian dialect (difficult for modern Polish speakers to understand), but Polish is no longer taught in local schools, and the language is being lost.
Visit the community cemetery and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, topped by a cross carried from Poland by the original colonists more than a century ago. During the renovation of the church in 2000, the old painted ceiling was restored. The church is open daily. A museum near the church may be visited by request at the Visitor's center.
Panna Maria is southeast of San Antonio, just off Texas 123 between Stockdale and Karnes City, near the ghost town of Helena.