Home » Articles » History » History of St. Michael’s Parish in San Antonio

History of St. Michael’s Parish in San Antonio

The parish of St. Michael’s in San Antonio was established on 8 November 1866 when Father Vincent Barzynski, a Resurrectionist priest, arrived from Rome. It was the third Polish Catholic church in Texas and the United States (after Panna Maria and St. Hedwig). It was also the third Catholic church in San Antonio-the first being San Fernando and the second being St. Mary’s.

Since the first Polish colony to arrive in San Antonio came within the octave of St. Michael’s feast day, it was decided that St. Michael would be the patron saint of the immigrants. And so it was appropriate that the Polish church in the city be named for their patron saint.

Father Vincent celebrated the first Mass for the parish at San Fernando Church . The Polish colony of about 40 families in San Antonio had been attending Mass at San Fernando since their arrival 10 years earlier. Father Vincent thought this location was too distant for the people to travel for Mass as most of the Poles lived a mile and a half to the southeast. During inclement weather it was most difficult to travel that distance over unpaved and muddy streets. Also, he had to rent the church by the hour to celebrate the Polish Mass. Sometimes the Mexican women remained in the church from an earlier service or came early for the following service. Father Vincent felt he was not getting full use of the time he paid for.

In December 1866 Father Vincent rented a stone building on the northeast corner of Matagorda and Goliad Streets, owned by Emanuel Rzeppa.The warehouse and former bakery, measuring only about sixteen by forty feet, would become the new parochial center.

The members cleaned the building and scrubbed the walls. An altar and benches were built by carpenters from within the congregation. A large piece of cloth was painted blue and attached to the ceiling to represent the sky. Small shimmering stars were pasted on the cloth. Several angels were painted on the ceiling by an immigrant artist. Another member of the congregation hand-carved figures of angels and saints.

{quotes}It was not long until this makeshift chapel could not hold the congregation which numbered over 200.{/quotes} Father Barzynski had higher aspirations for the parish and by early 1867 he had collected fifteen hundred dollars from the parishioners. Four lots at the corner of South Street and Indianola were bought from Erasmus Florian and construction began.

Each family was assessed $100, a considerable sacrifice for most of them. If they could not pledge money, they gave the equivalent in time and labor. The combined church, school, and rectory, constructed of stone, was completed in less than a year at a cost of $5,125. On 5 January 1868 the new building was blessed by Father Adolph Bakanowski, vicar general of the Polish missions in Texas .

According to Rev. Edward J. Dworaczyk in his book The First Polish Colonies of America in Texas the founding families of St. Michael's were M. Adamiec, Jake Brysch, Mary Brysch, Carol Dobrowolski, Albert Dlugosz, Thomas Dziuron, Anton Cieslik, Ignatz Faska, Frank Felix, Albert Halamuda, George Halamuda, J. Halamuda, Winfred Kedziora, Thomas Kiolobassa, Mrs. Kiolobassa (widow), Edward Kotula, Edward Kurka, John Kus, Anton Moczygemba, John Moczygemba, Albert Mondrala, Joseph Morawietz, Floryan Musiol, Frank Oczko, Susan Oczko, Paul Panek, Mrs. Panka (widow), Anton Pyka, Frank Pollock, Sebastian Roswadowski, Emanuel Rzeppa, John Szaparczyk, Frank Wieczorek, Jake Waczlawczyk, Jacob Zaiontz, and Isidor Zizik.

{quotes align=right}Father Vincent's desire was to build the parish into a model of Catholicism in San Antonio.{/quotes} To implement unity among the immigrants, he began to establish a number of societies, two of which were the Society of the Immaculate Conception in 1866 and the St. Adalbert Society, a fraternal aid society, in 1868. The St. Adalbert Society was the first organization founded by Poles in America to provide sick benefits, burial insurance, and survivor assistance. In “ Travel Notes” by Stefan Nesterowicz, he writes this about the Society. “The treasury of the Association pays seventy-five dollars death dues, and during illness a member receives two dollars a week help.”

Even though the parish had no school at this time, Father Vincent felt strongly that the children should be educated. Every Sunday and Thursday he would gather them into his residence for lessons in religion and the Polish language. He tried to persuade his younger brother, John, who studied law at the University of Warsaw to emigrate to Texas to assist with education of the young people. Finally in 1870 John came to help conduct the classes.

Father Vincent Barzynski continued serving as pastor until January 1873 when his brother, Father Joseph Barzynski, arrived in San Antonio . Father Vincent then went to St. Hedwig. Other pastors of St. Michael's in the early years were Father Stanislaus Wojciechowski, Rev. Felix Zwiardowski, Rev. Adelbertus Pelizar, Rev. Louis Dombrowski, and Rev. Bernard Zmijewski. In 1912 Father Thomas Moczygemba became pastor and remained in that position until his death in 1950. Father Moczygemba was the first native Texan priest to be ordained in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

In early 1878 the San Antonio City Council deeded the property at the corner of Palmetto and Center Streets in the East side Cemetery District to the congregation for the purpose of establishing St. Michael's cemetery. Most of the early parishoners are buried there, as well as Rev. Louis Dombrowski, one of the priests who served as pastor.

The original church was remodeled and enlarged two times before being torn down in 1922. Under the direction of Father Thomas Moczygemba, a larger white brick church was erected at a cost of $48,000. {quotes}With the furnishings the total cost was $70,000. Father Moczygemba and about sixty-five families funded the entire project.{/quotes} The cornerstone was blessed and laid 4 July 1922. Bishop Arthur J. Drossaerts of San Antonio officiated at the dedication of the new church on 25 October 1922.

Besides the $5000 personal donation that Father Moczygemba made for the construction of the church, a few years later he paid for the installation of a pipe organ ($5000), an automatic bell ringer ($1100), and a heating system ($2600). Members of the congregation donated three marble altars, marble communion rail, golden tabernacle doors, stained glass windows, statues, and vestments.

In 1965 the church and property was sold to the San Antonio Urban Renewal Project for the construction of Hemisfair '68. at a price of $370,000. A new St. Michael's church was built at 418 Indiana , southeast of the original location. The marble altars, communion rail, and stained glass windows were relocated to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at 617 S. Santa Rosa Blvd.

St. Michael's School 

The parish grew very little between it's founding in 1866 and 1900 when only about 45 families were registered. This was attributed to the lack of a parochial school where children could learn the Polish language.

The Sisters of Immaculate Conception of Panna Maria (Blue Sisters) opened a small school in 1873. The first two sisters who came to teach were Sister Salomea and Sister Augustina. Following their departure, Sister Hedwig and Sister Anthony came and taught until 1880, at which time the school closed.

In 1898 the Ursuline Sisters of San Antonio built, at their own expense, a school on the church property. When it opened there were 79 students enrolled.

The Sisters of Divine Providence purchased the school building from the Ursulines for $8,000 in 1901. The enrollment the first year was twenty-nine pupils. At the time of closing in 1965 there were 300 students enrolled, and the facility had eight classrooms, a library, and a separate music building.

Father Moczygemba added a high school in the 1930's. The first class of St. Michael's High School with seven seniors graduated 24 May 1935. It remained in operation until 1951 when the Sisters of Divine Providence opened Providence High School , a central high school for girls.

{quotes align=right}A number of vocations were fostered among the children who attended St. Michael's school. Five young ladies became Sisters in various congregations and five young men entered the seminary.{/quotes}

Pauline Zienc (Sister M. Clara) and Anna Pytel (Sister M. Martha) joined the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Elizabeth Gieniec (Sister M. Alexandrine) entered the convent of the Sisters of Divine Providence on 13 June 1933. Sadie Alice Mume (Sister Mary Teresa of Jesus) joined the Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns at the Monastery of the Infant of Prague and St. Joseph in Dallas , Texas , making her perpetual vows in 1956. Martha Margaret Calzoncit (Sister Mary Mercy of Christ) entered the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Lufkin , Texas .

Rev. Ignatius Kopczynski was ordained 5 April 1937 at San Fernando Cathedral. Rev. Erwin A. Juraschek was ordained 19 March 1946. Brother Robert Skloss entered the Novitiate of Brothers of Mary at Galesville , Wisconsin . Rev. John Gerard Castro, O.M.I. was ordained in 1962. Kenny Lee Tuttle entered St. Anthony's Seminary in August 1965.

Parish Organizations 

Following the example of Father Vincent Barzynski, there were a number of organizations within St. Michael's parish formed by the various pastors. Among these were the St. Stephen's Singing Society, which later became the St. Michael's Choir, and the Polish Young Men's Union in 1881. The first unit of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Antonio was established at St. Michael. These three groups were formed under the direction of Father Stanislas Wojciechowski who was an accomplished musician and an excellent speaker.

In 1914 the first women's group, St. Mary Magdalene's Altar Society, was founded. The first officers of the altar society were Lucia Zizik, president; Alice Gorrell, secretary; and Anna Pollok, treasurer. The name was later changed to St. Michael's Altar Society.

Sports were also an important part of parish life at St. Michael's. Jacek Przygoda in his book Texas Pioneers from Poland mentions that as early as 1898 a local newspaper reported that a baseball team was being organized with W. Gorrell as captain and G. Margozewitz as manager. During the 1920's and 1930's St. Michael's school was represented in softball, basketball, and volleyball competitions with other San Antonio parishes as well as those of neighboring towns.

In the same 1898 newspaper, Przygoda saw an article about a Polish Library Association in the city which met on the second Sunday of each month. Officers were Frank Zizik, president; W. Dobrowolski, vice-president; C. Weiss, corresponding secretary; Al Notzon, recording secretary; J. Danysch, librarian; and Thos. Watzlavzick, treasurer.

Other organizations which were part of the San Antonio Polish community were the Polish Sodality, the Polish Falcons (a cultural organization), the Woodrow Wilson Society (an affiliate of the Polish National Alliance in Chicago ) formed in 1929, and the Holy Name Society formed in 1934.

In August 1932 the St. Michael's Dramatic Club of San Antonio was organized to foster dramatics and promote social activities within the parish. Their first play, “Kicked Out of College” was presented 9 October 1932 at St. Albert 's Hall. To assist with the reduction of the parish debt, fifty percent of the net proceeds from the plays was given to the church.

Reverend P.L. Foegelle, assistant pastor at the time, was appointed honorary president. Father Moczygemba, pastor, was also appointed honorary president and spiritual director. The first elected officers were L.J. Zimmermon Jr. president; George P. Kosub, vice-president; Elizabeth Grams, recording secretary; and Frank Stanush, treasurer. Charter members included Lucille Brady, Bob Burda, Joseph Burda, John Cleveland, Elizabeth Gieniec, Constance Gorrell, Rose Gorrell, Dorothy Grams, Edward Grams, Clarence J. Horendeck, Marcella Kolodzie, Dorothy Kress, Agnes Margozewitz, Richard Perner, Clemens Ploch Jr., Elizabeth Ploch, Henry V. Ploch, Margaret Kelly Snapp, Claude Stanus, Sofie Strzelczyk, and Chrystine Zizik.

“The Spotlight”, an eight-page mimeographed newsletter was published monthly by the dramatic club. Bob Burda was the first editor when it debuted in March 1933.

{quotes}In addition to the plays, the group had monthly socials except during Lent, an annual banquet celebrating the anniversary of the Club's founding, and a Parents' Day celebration to honor the parents of the members.{/quotes} There were other parties given by different members throughout the year, such as the losing sides of the ticket-selling contests. Once each month the members received Holy Communion together at Mass and the boys acted as ushers at all church services.

Another activity that the Dramatic Club participated in was the annual Battle of Flowers parade in San Antonio . Each year a float was decorated by the members and they were usually awarded a prize for their entry.

With the vast number of activities and organizations sponsored by St. Michael's parish and its pastors, the Polish community made a major contribution to the religious, social, and cultural development of San Antonio

Resources :

Baker, T. Lindsay. The First Polish Americans: Silesian Settlements in Texas . College Station : Texas A & M University Press,1979.

Dworaczyk, Rev. Edward J. The First Polish Colonies of America in Texas . San Antonio : The Naylor Company, 1936.

Iwicki, John, C.R. and Wahl, James, C.R. “Resurrectionist Charism, A History of the Congregation of the Resurrection, 150 Years, Volume I, 1836-1886.” Rome : 1986.

Nesterowicz, Stefan. Travel Notes. Translated by Marion Moore Coleman, Cheshire Connecticut : Cherry Hill Books, 1970.

Przygoda, Jacek. Texas Pioneers from Poland : A Study in the Ethnic History. Waco , Texas : Texian Press, 1971

San Antonio Light ( San Antonio , Texas ), 11 October 1914

St. Michaels Catholic Church, 1866-1966 Centennial. Compiled by Mrs. John A. Bienek.

Father Thomas Moczygemba

Reprinted from the program of the Golden Jubilee Banquet of Rt. Rev. Msgr. Thomas Moczygemba, January 14, 1940 at St. Albert's Hall, St. Michael's Parish

Fifty years in the service of God is a joyous period to look upon in retrospect. For if we believe the words of Christ, the traveller has sighted his goal and just in the offing lies the reward for his arduous journey, a “hundredfold.”

Only a fleeting second in the hourglass of time ago, a youthful priest was consecrated to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. It was the fifth of January, 1890, a memorable day for the Rev. Thomas Moczygemba.

Twenty-six years old at the time, Father Tom, as he is familiarly called by his devoted parishioners, was the first native Texan to be ordained for the archdiocese of San Antonio . The Most Rev. Bishop John Nerez was minister of the sacrament, and the ceremony was performed in the parish church of Victoria where the diocesan seminary was then located.

The young priest spent nine months as assistant to the Rev. August Gardet, pastor of St. Mary's Church, Victoria, and was then himself appointed pastor of a church, the Immaculate Conception of Panna Maria.

For five years Father Tom administered to the spiritual needs of the Panna Marians. In the latter part of 1895, he was transferred to Immaculate Conception Church , Yorktown , where he remained sixteen and a half years.

At the turn of the century, Texas was still a comparatively virgin territory, void of the good highways and communication systems we have today. The boundaries of the Yorktown parish extended for almost a hundred miles, and Father Tom frequently had to brave piercing northers, rain or a broiling summer sun on horseback to make sick calls.

As more and more people settled within the scope of his parish, the priest built mission churches to accommodate them, one at Inez and another at Runge. He likewise completed a chapel at Edna, begun by Father Gardet, his former superior.

On September 24, 1912, Father Tom was moved to St. Michael's Church, San Antonio , and for twenty-eight years has served an uninterrupted term as spiritual guide of this parish. The present church building, costing $85,000 with its furnishings, was built by him in 1922.

As a token of his ecclesiastical accomplishments, the Most Rev. Archbishop Arthur J. Drossaerts invested the St. Michael's pastor with the scarlet robes of a monsignor in a colorful ceremony in San Fernando Cathedral on November 26, 1935.

Today, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Thomas Moczygemba celebrates the Golden Sacerdotal Jubilee of his ordination. Half a century has passed since he was wedded to the service of the Church. The years are gone into eternity, but the memory of our Father Tom remains engraven on the wandering souls he led into the garden of their Maker.

Additional Notes about Father Tom:

Father Tom was born 11 December 1863 in Panna Maria, son of Joseph Moczygemba (brother of Father Leopold) and Carolina Szyguda who were co-founders of Panna Maria. He attended the Victoria Seminary and was ordained on 7 January 1891.

On January 5, 1950, the “First Native Texan Priest” was honored at St. Michael's Church on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination. He died 28 June 1950.

Priests Who Served at St. Michaels

Rev. Vincent Barzynski, C.R   Pastor   1866-1872
Rev. Joseph Barzynski, C.R.   Pastor   1873-1876
Rev. Anthony Heinke   Assistant   1873
Rev. Joseph Ferra   Assistant   1876
Rev. Felix Zurardai   Assistant   1876
Rev. Stanislas Wojciechowski   Pastor   1877-1882
Rev. Julius Straelki   Assistant   1883
Rev. Felix Zwiardowski   Pastor   1876 and 1883-1884
Rev. Adelbertus Pelizar   Pastor   1884-1885
Rev. Louis Dombrowski   Pastor   1886-1889 and 1896-1912
Rev. John Wotynicuriz   Assistant   1888-1889
Rev. Rochus Skrobecki   Assistant   1893
Rev. C. Spennez, A.D.   Assistant   1894
Rev. Bernard Zmijewski   Pastor   1894-1896
Rev. M. Mozejewski   Assistant   1894-1896
Rev. A. Frische   Assistant   1896
Rt. Rev. Msgr T. J. Moczygemba   Pastor   1912-1932
Very Rev. Msgr. Peter L. Foegelle   Assistant   1932
Rev. Leo Moczygemba   Assistant   1945
Rev. Benedict Pruski   Assistant   1945-1947
Very Rev. Anthony F.Drozd   Administrator   1947-1948
Rev. Julius Dworaczyk   Assistant   1948-1949
Rev. Edward Dworaczyk   Pastor   1949-1955
Rev. Joseph Hamala   Assistant   1951-1955
Rev. Carlos Quintana   Assistant   1951-1957
Rev. Raymond Garcia   Assistant   1955 and 1960-1962
Rev. Edward Bartach   Assistant   1955-1956
Rev. Robert E. Schmidt   Pastor   1955-1958
Rev. Alton A. Rudolph   Assistant   1956-1959
Rev. Gerald Boehme   Pastor   1958-1959
Rev. Michael G. McManus   Pastor   1959-1964
Rev. Marion Swize   Assistant   1959-1960
Rev. Michael Canney   Assistant   1959
Rev. Eugene Przychoden   Assistant   1960-1962
Rev. Michael Fernandez, O.S.A.   Assistant   1961-1962
Rev. Brian P. Crookes   Assistant   1962-1963
Rev. Raul Prieto, O.S.A  


Rev. Leo M. Dolan   Assistant   1963-1964
Rev. Adolph F. Janda   Assistant   1963-1964
Rev. Clemente M. Iglesias, O.S.A.   Assistant   1964-1966
Very Rev. Luis Urriza, O.S.A.   Pastor   1964
Rev. Toribio de Onate, O.S.A.   Assistant   1965