2019 PACT Annual Meetings & Festivities in Bandera, Texas

Polish American Council of Texas Holds 2019 Annual Meeting
in Bandera, Texas, the Cowboy Capital of the World

Story by Elaine Mazurek Stephens, 1st Vice President of the Polish American Council of Texas
Nov. 27, 2019

The Polish American Council of Texas (PACT) held their Annual Meetings on Nov 16, 2019 in Bandera, Texas, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Each year the event is held in a different community in Texas. This year, the all-day activities were hosted by St. Stanislaus Catholic Church which was founded by Polish settlers in 1855.  The celebrations attracted almost 400 people who were a lively part of the crowd at the Bandera County Courthouse, a colorful parade, Holy Mass, and a festive gala.

In the early hours of the day, the PACT held their annual membership and Directors’ meetings in the St. Joseph parish hall at St. Stanislaus, decorated in a cowboy theme, where the parish graciously provided a delicious breakfast.

Following the business meetings, the sunny Autumn day lead all to the historic Bandera County Courthouse, where the Bandera County Commissioners Jody Rutherford and Bruce Eliker, Mayor Pro Tem Rebeca Gibson, and Mayor Suzanne Schauman along with Bandera Sister City Partnership Ambassador Elenora Dugosh Goodley, and local dignitaries extended an official welcome to PACT.The National Anthem was sung by Yessica Krozel in Polish and English. Commissioners Rutherford and Eliker presented a Texas Historical Plaque to Consul General Rusiecki.  Bandera Mayor Schauman presented Mrs. Rusiecki with a bouquet of Texas Flowers. PACT President, Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz, shared historical and cultural information about the Polish settlements in Texas, their contributions to the heritage of Texas, especially music, and the rich Polish-Texan culture shared by hundreds of thousands of Texans.

The crowd was entertained by performances on the Courthouse lawn by the Mini Wawel Dancers from Houston and several wild west performers including Kelly Scott and his Chuck Wagon, Wes Hatch and his Longhorn, “Redneck”, Bandera Cowgirls, Brothel Babes, Bandera Cattle Company Gunfighters, and World Champion Trick Roper, Will Fitzpatrick.

Following the Courthouse activities, a procession of Polish-Texans and cowboys walked a few blocks to the historic St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, led by the violin artist-fiddler Gerald Payne, playing Polish and Texan melodies as the colorful group, dressed in traditional Polish and Cowboy attire, carried U.S., Texas, Poland and Papal flags, along with banners representing the regions all over Texas where communities of Polonia still thrive today.

At the church, Mass was celebrated by Monsignor Franciszek Kurzaj “Father Frank” from Poland, who has been in Texas since 1987 and the parish priest in Bandera since 2017.  He said, “In 1855, a group from Silesia (Poland) came to the hill country from San Antonio and started a new life in Texas. The first thing they did was to build a church named in honor of bishop and martyr St. Stanislaus, who in 1079 was killed by King Boleslaw and canonized in 1253 in Assisi Italy. The church of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr was built in Pluznica Wielka, the town where Father Leopold Moczygemba was born and from which many of the immigrants from Europe came to Texas.”

Kurzaj is the President of the Father Leopold Moczygemba Foundation and has led annual pilgrimages to Poland for many decades, helping many to connect with their ancestral roots. He said, “It was great to see people with Polish roots from all over Texas visiting Bandera today and participating in the Holy Eucharist here at St. Stanislaus while singing Polish songs and wearing traditional costumes, such as worn in the Goral region, all of them giving thanks for the grace of now being citizens of the United States.”

At the end of the Mass, Father Frank had time to talk to some of the children wearing Polish attire, asking them where their parents were from. Most parents of the Mini-Wawel children were born in Poland.  A few were born in the U.S. “I realized that some of the children are already third and fourth generations of Polish in Texas,“ he said.

Following Mass, many visitors spent time reflecting on the Polish families listed on the large granite, commemorative marker erected just outside the church doors. The visitors then walked a few feet to the church cemetery where the same surnames appeared on every row of old and new headstones under the old oak trees.

The crowd grew larger as a traditional cowboy barbeque lunch was served, following a blessing by the PACT Founder, Bishop Emeritus John W. Yanta, D.D., of the Amarillo Diocese. The meal at the Farm Country Club, just north of Bandera, was catered by Bill Miller’s.  Performances by the stunningly beautiful Dance Group Wawel, Babcia Wawel, Ed Winiarski, and Mini Wawel fascinated the crowd. Almost everyone in attendance joined in to dance the Polish Polonnaise, a regal yet fun dance similar to the Grand March held at many Polish weddings in Texas.

An Award of Appreciation was presented to the event coordinator, Debbie Brzezinski, who, with a talented team of volunteers, created a unique and well-organized day for PACT, even painting 300 “Polish-Texan” eggs for the table decorations. “They did an outstanding job,” said Bishop Yanta and everyone in attendance. The silent and live auctions raised more than $4000 for the PACT scholarship program.

The highlight of the gala was the PACT 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award presented posthumously to the late Rev. Stanislaw Oleksy S.D.S., who as former pastor of St. Stanislaus, was in charge of restoring the church and renovating the interior of the beautiful painted church. Rev. Kazimierz Oleksy, accepted the award on behalf of his late brother.

The 2020 annual meeting of PACT will be held on November 14 in Anderson, Texas, to be hosted by the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church. PACT has a state-wide membership of people, families, organizations, students, and businesses. The nonprofit organization distributes a colorful annual directory free of charge to 3,500 people across Texas at events and festivals. The directory can be viewed in a virtual flip-book on their website PolishAmericanCouncilofTexas.org.