Lawyer turned Marianist Novice finds his ministry at St. Mary’s Law

November 16, 2023

by Brooke Blanton Leith

As a young criminal lawyer in his home state of Querétaro, Mexico, Guillermo “Memo” Peña Contreras had no interest in the priesthood. While discussing religion at work one day, his boss made a joke that Peña Contreras originally brushed off. 

“Maybe someday you’ll be a seminarian,” he’d said. 

Peña Contreras imagined life as a priest would leave him stuck inside a parish in a sedentary life. 

“I said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’” Peña Contreras said.  

Years earlier, his grandmother had the same idea.  

“She told me, ‘If someday you want to be a padrecito, just let me know and I will take you to a priest,’” he said. “I didn’t pay too much attention at the time.” 

While he was practicing law, Peña Contreras was introduced to a Marianist priest who invited him to his chapel, and he realized he’d been closer to his future than he thought. 

“I had been walking in front of the chapel my whole life,” he said. “The Marianist community was on the way to my grandma’s house.” 

Guillermo “Memo” Peña Contreras posing in Marianist shirt in front of a chapel with the words "Queen of the Holy Rosary" written above the door

In 2015, Peña Contreras joined the choir at the chapel and got to know several of the brothers who lived in Querétaro. He saw the work they were doing to help people within their community — not at all stuck inside the church. 

“It was during Holy Week of 2019 when I decided to join the Marianist brothers,” he said.  

The first step in his Marianist formation was to live with the brothers in Querétaro as a Marianist Aspirant. 

“My main activity was studying religion, but also working with sick people,” he said. “I visited them, prayed with them, brought the Holy Communion to them.” 

The next step in his formation was to move to San Antonio in December 2020. He only knew a few words of English, so the Marianists arranged for him and a fellow Aspirant from South Korea to take English classes at Mexican American Catholic College for six months before starting the Intensive English Program at St. Mary’s University.  

After this time, Peña Contreras started his 20 months as a Marianist Novice. The first year was spent at Mount Saint John in Dayton, Ohio.  

“This program helped me to have a better relationship with God, with myself and with others,” he said. 

While Peña Contreras enjoyed the work he was doing, his interest in the law was still alive. He felt God was calling him to do something and that his background in the law would help him accomplish it. When the time came to be given a ministry during the second year of his Novitiate, his directors had the perfect assignment. 

“They said, ‘What do you think about going to San Antonio and working in the law school?’ and I was excited,” he said. 

“God put little seeds during my whole life and I didn’t realize until the seeds were ready to bring fruit.”

Guillermo “Memo” Peña Contreras

Peña Contreras returned to San Antonio in August 2023 and met his new supervisor, St. Mary’s School of Law Assistant Dean of International Programs Jennifer Stevenson, J.D., who provided him with options to pursue his ministry while using his background in law. 

He first served in the Legal Services Area of the Multi-Assistance Center at Morgan’s Wonderland, using his knowledge of the law to offer translation services to individuals with disabilities receiving legal advice. One of the attorneys he met invited him to an eviction court on Thursdays to help translate for the San Antonio Legal Services Association.  

From there, he was invited to work with Haven for Hope, assisting those experiencing homelessness to get identification and other important documents they had lost; with the YWCA at an event connecting immigrants with services from medical screenings to consultations with attorneys; and with American Gateways, assisting immigrants with employment.  

“Sometimes they share a bit of their story, so I help in a legal sense but also in a spiritual and human sense,” Peña Contreras said. 

Meanwhile, he joined Stevenson’s Introduction to the American Legal System class, where he met students from around the world.  

“Brother Memo has been a great addition to our campus and community,” Stevenson said. “His passion for the law and social justice is contagious.” 

During a lunch with law students, Stevenson asked Peña Contreras to lead the group in prayer. 

“I said, ‘We are all law students, and we are living in this situation of war and injustice in our world. So, let’s pray for justice and for peace,’” he said. 

In December, Peña Contreras will return to Dayton to continue his formation and prepare to profess his first vows and become a Temporary Professed Marianist. After several years, he can request to take his perpetual vows, which is a permanent commitment to assisting Mary in her mission of bringing Christ to the world. 

Peña Contreras hopes to return to Mexico and continue his ministry there in the future. 

“It’s not that I’m a lawyer or a brother, but how can I use all these gifts and share them with others?” he said. “God put little seeds during my whole life and I didn’t realize until the seeds were ready to bring fruit.” 

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