Luis Guerra ’02, MBA ’04, doesn’t like to speak about his many accomplishments, except to thank those that made them possible. When talking about himself Guerra frequently emphasizes, “I am who I am thanks to the Sisters.”
Guerra left Chile in 1983 when he was in his early twenties. Motivated by adventure and better career opportunities, he came to Oakland, California on a six-month visa to learn English.
Guerra enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program that was operated on the Holy Names campus at the time. The program drew hundreds of students from all over the world, yet somehow, there were hardly any Spanish speaking students. Without friends or family in the area he didn’t have many people to talk to.
“In the 1980s, there were over thirty Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary living on campus in what is now Founders Hall—they made me feel welcome from day one. Many of the Sisters knew how to speak Spanish and they invited me to join them on their walks around campus. They asked me about myself and encouraged me to continue my education,” said Guerra.
When money became an issue, Guerra took a contract position as a gardener on campus. He was thrilled to get the job especially because he had no gardening experience. Guerra recalls that it was raining heavily his ﬁrst day and he spent the entire shift soaking wet, yet he kept smiling and didn’t complain.
His strong work ethic and ability to ﬁx anything quickly became noticed and relied upon by the Sisters and staff at Holy Names. In under a year, he was offered a job as a maintenance worker and shortly after, assistant plant manager on campus—a position that led to many new rewards.
Two years after his arrival, he met and fell in love with his wife, Maria Panesi-Guerra ’99, MBA ’02, who worked as a secretary for the University’s contracted plant ofﬁce. They went on to have two children.
“I was far away from home but never felt alone. The community here was like my family. The campus my home. I met my wife here. My kids learned to swim here. They grew up playing on the campus.” Guerra said.
Guerra loved his work—there was always a new challenge and he learned so much from the Sisters. He recalls the work ethic and resourcefulness of Sr. Ethel Mary Tinnemann, who woke up at 5 a.m. every morning, no matter how cold, to wash the Sisters’ small fleet of cars. He recalls the intellect of Sr. Nancy Teskey, who led the modernization of the science labs, and the commitment of Sr. Carol Sellman, who he describes as the “Soul of Holy Names.”
Sr. Carol Sellman likewise praised Guerra, “Luis is truly a gift to HNU. He is one of the most loyal employees HNU has ever had. As he celebrates his 35th anniversary this year, I think back to those first years when he claims he was afraid of me (he got over that quickly!). His motto should be ‘Ask and you will receive with a smile.'”
In 1999, the Sisters offered Guerra a new position, Director of Special Events, but the job came with one condition: he needed to get a bachelor’s degree. He accepted the challenge and began taking classes at HNU on weekends and at night. “I have been at every Holy Names graduation since 1984. From the beginning, I wished to walk across the stage. I told myself—one day I’ll do it,” said Guerra. And he did. Guerra graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2002 and a master’s degree in 2004.
Never striving for accolades, Guerra was nevertheless honored with an alumni achievement award in 2013 and multiple promotions. These promotions led to his current esteemed position as the vice president for facilities and events and a member of the President’s Cabinet.