On June 3, Archbishop José H. Gomez will ordain eight new priests for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The Class of 2023 has heard God calling them in the ups and downs of their professional careers, family lives, and the quiet intimacy of eucharistic adoration.
In the days leading up to their ordination, we’ll be introducing a new soon-to-be Father. Los Angeles, meet your new priests!
Hometown: Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico
Home parish: St. Martin of Tours Church, Los Angeles
Parish assignment: Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Northridge
At the age of 6, Luis Gerardo Peña moved with his parents, brother, and sister from Mexico to Downey, California. After his parents divorced when he was in middle school, he found himself back in his home country.
Separated from his mother and siblings — who remained in California — and now living in Mexico with his father and grandparents, Peña found himself asking lots of questions about his life.
What really matters in life? What’s my purpose?
He didn’t find the answers that night, but what he did find was his pastor and his pastor’s library.
“I remember just going to that library most evenings and just checking out books,” Peña said. “It was just really enriching for me and it was a hook. It was a hook that kept drawing me in.”
Soon, Peña was a lector. Then an usher. Then an altar server.
It was a huge jump from where he started.
When Peña returned to Mexico with his father, he had received no sacraments other than baptism. His grandparents restarted his faith formation by placing him in catechism classes, although not without humiliation.
“I did my first Communion I think when I was 13,” Peña said, recalling the experience of being in the classroom with 7- and 8-year-olds. “It was pretty awkward.”
By then, his pastor was encouraging him to enter the seminary and invited him several times to a pre-seminary retreat. But family pressure and other opportunities began presenting themselves. In his last year of high school, while his classmates were applying to universities, his family was asking him what was next.
A doctor? An architect (his grandmother’s preference)? The Navy?
“I like the ships, I like the uniform, I like the ocean,” Peña said. “It really took courage to turn down those opportunities.”
In the end, he accepted the invitation to the retreat.
“It was really a life-changing retreat,” Peña said. “It kind of solidified the questions that I had within me, and it provided me with a space and friends that would accompany me and my discernment.”
He entered the seminary in Guadalajara right out of high school when he was 17, but a year later, life threw him yet another twist. Violence, tension, and insecurity began affecting his family in Mexico, and it was decided that Peña should move again to California to reunite with his mother and siblings.
Thankfully, St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo welcomed him.
“It’s been quite a gift,” Peña said. Besides welcoming him and helping nurture his vocation, the time has “also challenged me to grow and just go beyond my limitations or my areas of comfort,” he said.
As he prepares to become a priest, Peña knows what kind of Church he wants to bring to his flock after reading Spanish priest and author José Luis Martín Descalzo.
“I started to read and it painted an image of a Church, like a young Church, an open Church,” Peña said. “One that was kind of depicted by Pope Francis — open arms, that embraces, that touches a world that is not scared to engage the world. And that was the image of the Church that I fell in love with.”
But he knows there are minds and hearts not yet willing to give the Church the benefit of the doubt. For those, he has faith.
“So many people out there have been brought up with prejudices or false labels, or have experienced a negative aspect of the Church or a Church leader,” Peña said. “And I’ve been discouraged by that. But there’s so much more richness that lies behind that … we’re all hungry for something, we all thirst for something, and that something is found in Jesus Christ.”