Tattoos On The Heart: The Life And Works Of Father Greg Boyle

Father Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has dedicated his life to helping people affected by gang violence and giving members of gangs a chance for a new life. Growing up with seven siblings in Los Angeles, California, Father Boyle has seen firsthand the degradation of communities affected by gang violence (Boyle, xiii). Father Boyle, unlike members of gang communities he has served, “lived comfortably, went to Catholic private schools, and always had jobs” in his early life. Given the gifts he had and his desire to help others, Father Boyle became a Jesuit priest in 1984 because he viewed the Jesuit order as a “social activist” platform. Boyle’s mission can be summed up with this line in his book Tattoos on the Heart: “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives”. To understand Father Boyle’s work and his positive impact on the lives of others, one must understand his past and present ministries.

Father Boyle began his ministry when he became the pastor of Dolores Mission Church in 1986 (Boyle, 1). Located in Boyle Heights, this area in which the church is located is home to “eight active gangs” (Boyle, 2). Seeing his community suffer from deaths associated with gang activity, Boyle and his parish created the Dolores Mission Alternative in 1988. This mission would ultimately evolve into Father Boyle’s most impactful organization of hope: Homeboy Industries. Initially known as Jobs for the Future, this organization would hire and provide jobs to gang members who sought to better themselves but also lacked previous opportunities in the workforce. An example of someone who was helped by Father Boyle’s organization includes a man named Anguiano. Having had a rough childhood and a past with criminal activity, Anguiano was told by a friend about the “solar-installation program at Homeboy Industries”. After telling Father Boyle he sought a better life, Boyle immediately provided Anguiano with a job at Homeboy Industries, which he would come to love and enjoy. This opportunity did not only provide him with a job but also allowed him to gain better job opportunities as he gained experience in his work. For Father Boyle did not just create the organization to provide gang members with jobs but wanted Homeboy Industries “to be that gust” which starts these people on a path to a better life. To better understand Homeboy Industries, one needs to know the impact this organization had and still has on the lives of people and the response of the community to it.

As mentioned previously, Homeboy Industries provides jobs to gang members who want jobs but have lacked the opportunities to gain them. In the early stages of the company, Father Boyle hired gang members to do jobs shifted at creating a more clean and safe community. These jobs included “building of a child-care center, neighborhood clean-up crews, and graffiti removal, landscaping, and maintenance crews” (Boyle, 4-5). Even though Father Boyle has been able to provide jobs for thousands of gang members in Los Angeles, he still reminds people that the people he has helped are just “a tiny drop in a pretty deep bucket” (Boyle, 9). Throughout the time Father Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, he has been greatly praised and helped in his mission to help those in need, but has also faced some negative feedback from gang communities. An example of how the community responded to the work of Father Boyle occurred when White Memorial Hospital voluntarily paid the rent for the Church property used to help gang members (Boyle, 7). Another example of a positive response to Boyle’s work includes how the city of Los Angeles has accepted Homeboy Industries and its mission to help gang members rather than just putting them in jail. And lastly, an example of outrage shown by certain gang members includes the death and bomb threats that Homeboy Industries has received. Doing the work of God in his everyday life, Father Boyle is a source of inspiration for all people and is a person who has many admirable qualities that all people should seek to mimic in their everyday lives.

Two key qualities that I admire in Father Boyle include his humility and bravery. Selfless in his work to help the disadvantaged, Father Boyle lives out one of the Corporal Works of Mercy to the fullest: visit and help the imprisoned. This is Father Boyle’s main teaching to the world but also the Church in that he wants more communities to adopt and build more programs like Homeboy Industries. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states this message, “the duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged…”. His bravery has also helped his mission to grow and spread peace in Los Angeles. An example of his bravery includes the method he used to promote peace. Father Boyle would ride on his bike between neighborhoods trying to get gangs to sign cease-fires, and to try to stop them from shooting into houses. Father Boyle’s determination along with the change he has promoted has earned him great respect from past and present gang members as well as the entire Los Angeles community, which seeks to promote and help Father Boyle grow and expand his hope-giving organization.

One thing I have learned from Father Boyle is that we should not deem those who are in a prison system or those who have committed great wrongs unhelpable or not worthy of a chance to change their life. The first thing these people need is rehabilitation programs geared at trying to get them back on the right path. For in the United States, we lack these programs which would stop people from becoming repeat offenders and instead try to lock away these people. These programs should model Father Boyle’s organization and should allow these people a chance to change their life around. People who have lacked opportunity and have grown up in the toughest environments need to be taught that their life has meaning and that they are called to a vocation given to them by God. As Catholic Americans, we have a responsibility to promote this message but to also act on the issue like Father Boyle. I personally thank Father Boyle for his effort to help these people and hope that his ministry can spread to all areas of the United States, and eventually, hope that his mission can help people worldwide. 

16 December 2021
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