By Bruce Harper Karnes Countywide staff

PANNA MARIA – The 20 young adult members of the Mazovia Polish Song and Dance Association from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, made a day trip to Panna Maria Thursday, June 6, to visit the Polish Heritage Center.

The group was in South Texas to perform at the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio.

“We were so excited to be accepted to come to San Antonio for the Folklife Festival,” said Majka Kowalczyk, the artistic director for the group. 

“We have only been in existence for five years and we try and make a trip with the group every year. We’ve been back to Poland, to Seattle and to San Francisco.”

The song and dance group performed at the San Antonio Polish Center on Thursday afternoon and were at the Folklife Festival performing throughout the day on Friday, June 7. The 48th annual festival concluded Sunday, June 9.

The younger aged performers in the group stayed in San Antonio on Thursday, but the older performers took the chartered bus ride to Panna Maria to visit the Polish Heritage Center, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, the museum, the visitors’ center, and even see some real longhorn cattle at Randy Pawelek’s ranch.

They were greeted at the Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria by Betty Kowalik, Laura Dylla and John Wajtasczyk.

Panna Maria is the oldest Polish settlement in the United States, dating back to 1854. The first Catholic mass was held on the grounds under the shade of an oak tree that still stands.

“Our Polish community in Calgary is over 100,000 strong. Some of the youngsters on this trip are from Poland and quite a few are first generation Canadians. We are trying to keep our heritage and culture alive,” said Kowalczyk.

“And, we love to dance and sing.”

The group toured the Heritage Center with local spokesman John Wojtasczyk narrating the tour of the partially completed inside of the center. He described the facility room for room as to what would eventually be housed and showcased in the large complex of rooms within the Heritage Center.

The group arrived in San Antonio earlier in the week and has made it to the San Antonio River Walk and to the Alamo.

“The Alamo was so beautiful. So much history and really interesting. We try and make our trips educational for the youngsters,” said Kowalczyk.

When asked what they thought of Texas so far, both Majka (pronounced my-ka) and her 21-year-old daughter Veronika said in unison, “It’s hot, very hot and very humid.”

Veronika is a college student, a mechanical engineering major at the University of British Columbia.

“I was really interested in the building stages of the center. It was interesting to see,” said Veronika Kowalczyk.

The group will return to Calgary after the Folklife Festival came to a close Sunday, June 9, a trip of 2,065 miles or 3,368 kilometers.

The group leaders hoped to return to Panna Maria some day when the Polish Heritage Center is completed. It is the beginning locale of Polish history within North America and the Polish Canadians have now seen and visited a big part of their culture, heritage and history in Panna Maria.

Editor’s note: Some information for this story came from Elaine Kolodziej of the Panna Maria Polish Heritage Center.