Leopold Moczygemba, priest, was born in Pluznica, Upper Silesia, on October 18, 1824, the son of Leopold and Ewa (Krawietz) Moczygemba. He is best known in Texas as the founder of the oldest permanent Polish settlements in the United States, Panna Maria and Bandera, Texas, but he is equally well known outside the state as an ethnic and Catholic leader in the northern states from the 1860s to the 1880s. He spent his childhood in his birthplace and in the nearby village of Ligota Toszecka and attended first the local Catholic schools and then schools in the towns of Opole and Gliwice. In 1843 Moczygemba decided to become a priest of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. He spent the next four years in northern Italy and was ordained in 1847. The next year he was moved by his superiors to Bavaria, where he spent the next five years mainly in study. In 1852 Bishop Jean Marie Odin of Galveston, a native Frenchman, returned to Europe seeking funds and missionaries to work in his sprawling diocese, which encompassed all of Texas. He recruited five Franciscan Minor Conventual priests and one lay brother to serve the German immigrant communities in Texas. Moczygemba was one of this religious party, which landed in Galveston on September 1, 1852. He quickly assumed his new post as the first permanent Catholic pastor serving New Braunfels, where he remained until moving to Castroville in early 1854.
Observing the economic and social advancement of his immigrant parishioners on the Texas frontier, Father Leopold began writing letters to his family and friends in Upper Silesia, encouraging them to come to Texas. His letters were received with perhaps more enthusiasm than he had expected, for almost 200 Polish peasants from his home region sailed for Texas in the winter of 1854–55. Most of them settled at a place prepared by the priest near the confluence of the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek in newly organized Karnes County. Moczygemba named the site Panna Maria, Polish for "Virgin Mary." Other Silesians settled in the already existing communities at Bandera and San Antonio. For the next three years Polish peasants continued coming to Texas and settling primarily in the areas already occupied by their countrymen. Improved economic conditions in Upper Silesia, combined with the start of a severe drought in Texas, ended the movement by 1856–57. Conditions became so harsh, in fact, that the Poles in anger forced Moczygemba to leave Panna Maria entirely. He then spent a few months at Castroville before leaving Texas in late 1857. His legacy included the formation of the first Polish settlements and Polish Catholic parishes in the United States, the establishment of the first Polish school in America (at Panna Maria), and major contributions from 1854 to 1857 as the superior of the Franciscan Minor Conventual missions in Texas.
Moczygemba spent most of the remainder of his life in the northern United States. There he continued to serve as the superior for the Franciscan Minor Conventual missions in America until 1866, residing most of this time at Syracuse, New York. For the next twenty-five years, with brief interruptions for travel and service in Europe, he worked among Germans and Poles in New York, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He founded several parishes, established numerous schools, and participated in the formation of the Polish Roman Catholic Union, the largest Polish Catholic organization in the United States. He is better known, however, as the cofounder of Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, the only successful major Polish seminary in the country. The priest continued working among Catholics until his death in Dearborn, Michigan, on February 23, 1891. On October 13, 1974, his remains, originally buried in Detroit, were reinterred at Panna Maria under the oak tree beneath which he had offered Mass for the first arriving Polish immigrants to Texas at Christmastime in 1854.
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T. Lindsay Baker, The First Polish Americans: Silesian Settlements in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1979). T. Lindsay Baker, "The Reverend Leopold Moczygemba, Patriarch of Polonia," Polish American Studies, Spring 1984. Joseph Swastek, Priest and Pioneer: Rev. Leopold Moczygemba (Detroit: Conventual, 1951).
Founders and Pioneers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
T. Lindsay Baker,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995