Panna Maria, Texas – The first Polish immigrants came into the United States In 1854 and settled in Panna Maria, a small community in Karnes County southeast of San Antonio.
Direct descendants of the early settlers are now a part of the committee building the Polish Heritage Center.
"This is a tribute to our ancestors and to Poland," Polish Heritage Center Foundation treasurer Betty Kowalik said.
The 16,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility will feature permanent and temporary exhibit space, theater, archive room, genealogy room, library and reading room, event space, gift shop and concession area.
The exhibits will be interactive and families will be able to trace their roots and see photographs of distant relatives.
"It's really multicultural, but their roots began in Panna Maria," Polish Heritage Center champions coordinator Judy Scheffler said.
The $14 million project has been seven years in the making and was the idea of retired Bishop John Yanta.
The exterior of the building was recently complete.
Fundraising efforts continue as the Polish Heritage Center Foundation looks to complete the inside of the building and open in December 2019.
"The idea is when you leave here you leave a better person," said John Wojtasczyk, assistant to retired Bishop John Yanta. "All of the immigrant communities have contributed to the American experience, and this is about showcasing the best of what we all bring."