St. John Paul II Institute and the New Program of Polish Studies at UST in Houston

In August 2021, a new Polish Studies Program was launched at the St. John Paul II Institute at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. The St. John Paul II Institute was founded in 2019 in order to facilitate the understanding of the life and work of St. John Paul II in the context of Polish history and culture.

The Institute offers courses on the thought of John Paul II for both graduate and undergraduate students. The flagship program is a Master of Arts in Saint John Paul II studies. This 30-hour online program includes: the study of the life and thought of Saint John II through his writings, with a focus on his 14 encyclicals. For the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2021, Pope Benedict encouraged people to read these works to discover a comprehensive account of the faith spanning such themes as:

  • Christian Personalism,
  • Faith and Reason,
  • Ethics and Conscience,
  • Work and Social Solidarity,
  • Political Freedom,
  • Divine Mercy,
  • Eucharist and Mary,
  • The new evangelization.

A capstone course featuring travel to sites in Poland that have special relevance to the life and work of John Paul II. It presently has about 40 students enrolled from over a dozen states and from various countries around the globe including Australia, Italy, Cameroon the Philippines and Lesotho.

Students during the fieldtrip in Poland following the footsteps of St. John Paul II

The achievement and legacy of John Paul II is intimately tied to Polish culture and history. St. John Paul II’s integral vision of the human person was formed and tested in the crucible of the centuries of oppression and triumphs in the 20th century. “I am the son of a Nation which its neighbors have condemned to death several times, but which has survived and remained itself,” John Paul II said at an address to UNESCO; “it has kept its identity in spite of partitions and foreign occupations by relying on its culture. This culture turned out in the circumstances to be more powerful than all other forces.”

In his first encyclical, Redeemer of Man, John Paul II sketched a bold vision of Christian humanism that would inspire his 27 year work as Pope to challenge and transform the world. About this great work he wrote that “everything I said in the encyclical Redeemer of Man I brought with me from Poland.” The story of Poland and the story of Saint John Paul II are deeply intertwined.

A distinctive feature of the Saint John Paul II Institute at the University of St. Thomas is the plan to bring together the study of St. John Paul II and the study of the Polish history and culture that was so integral to his character and teaching.

The Director of UST’s Saint John Paul II Institute, Dr. John Hittinger, stated: “With the presence of so many people of Polish ancestry in Houston and all over the state of Texas, combined with the rising importance of Poland as a strategic and economic partner of the United States, the time seems right to launch this program in Polish Studies at the University at Saint Thomas.”

In 2021, The University of St. Thomas added a program of Polish Studies. This new program is led by Dr. Piotr Przybylski, born and raised in Krakow, Poland and one of prominent leaders of Texas Polonia. For the 2021-2022 academic year, undergraduates have enrolled in a minor program in Polish Studies through courses such as:

  • Introduction to Polish Culture,
  • History of Poland in the 20th Century,
  • Polish Texans,
  • Polish Language.

Additional courses on Polish art, film, literature and politics will be added. These new programs were recently endowed with a generous $200,000 endowment gift from Dr. Ewa Thompson.

Courses are taught both in-person and via Zoom. These courses are currently available exclusively to UST students but starting in Spring 2022 we will extend these course offerings to other universities as well as any other individual with interest in the material. We have an experienced Polish Studies academic staff with Polish roots, as well as outstanding Christian philosophers who have studied St. John Paul II extensively. We envision that these classes about Poland and St. John Paul II will serve the international Polish community, and will convey the true soul of Poland and Polish people to Americans who still have a limited understanding. These studies provide an incredible opportunity for children and grandchildren of Polish immigrants to immerse themselves in Polish culture and traditions, thereby instilling a sense of pride in their heritage.

In the last two years the Institute has sponsored talks by eminent scholars from the United States and Poland to address issues pertaining to the achievements of St. John Paul II and other Poles. Topics included John Paul II’s teachings on Philosophy and Theology; Polish history and culture, and Polish immigration to Texas.

In November 2021 the Institute c0-hosted with the Polish Consulate in Houston, headed by Consul Robert Rusiecki, the annual celebration of the Polish Independence Day. Upcoming events are to include a visit and exhibition by Kraków artist, Romuald Oramus (March 2022) and musical performance during planned 1st Annual Ignacy Jan Paderewski Music Festival in Houston (November 2022). In June 2022 Dr. Hittinger will return to Poland with UST students follow in the footsteps of John Paul II.

The Institute aims to position itself as one of the world leaders in transmitting Saint John Paul II’s spiritual, intellectual, and cultural heritage and actively developing his rich legacy. The integration of this legacy with the understanding of the history and heritage of Poland will be a distinctive hallmark of the Institute.

We welcome inquiries about the programs and support for this ambitious project to honor the legacy of this great Pope and the history and culture of his beloved Poland.

  • Institute Director, Dr. John Hittinger may be reached at 713-525-2155 and
  • Assistant Director for Polish Studies, Dr. Piotr Przybylski may be reached at 713-525-3148 and

More details about both the John Paul II Studies and the Polish Studies Program can be found on the Institute's website: Homepage - Saint John Paul II Institute (

The promo video can be found on the main page and on Vimeo:

The history of Polish Texans is not very well known. Very few people among the Polish diaspora realize that Texas was the first landing place for Polish refugees escaping the hardships after the November Uprising of 1830; also the site of the first Polish settlement in America; the first home for a Polish Catholic church and parishes on the continent; and the location of the first Polish-language school.


In today's interview, Kuryer Polski hosts Professor Jim Mazurkiewicz, Regents Fellow and Leadership Program Director, Governor Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership (TALL) Program, and one of the most important leaders of Polonia in the USA.


The Polish media again missed the visit of an important American scientist, leader of the Polish community abroad, and the man behind the liquefied gas (LNG) contract that was signed between Poland and Texas. There were many opportunities indeed to get interested in this extremely distinguished friend of Poland.