by Lily Bessette
On Wednesday, March 18, Boston College welcomed Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries and author of "Tattoos on the Heart," for a keynote address as part of Campus Ministry’s 2015 Lenten F.A.S.T. week. Boyle urged listeners to form a community of solidarity, mutuality, and kinship with the marginalized. Father G, as Boyle is commonly known, shared many jokes and memories from his ongoing work with Homeboy Industries.
Father Gregory Boyle attended Loyola High School and was ordained a priest in 1984. As a Jesuit priest, he became the new pastor at Dolores Mission, the poorest parish in Los Angeles at the time. Making a joke about how the previous pastor had quit, Father G commented on his reaction to his new position, “I was a pig in poop. I was so joyful.”
Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in 1988. Since then, Father G has helped develop forty-six programs throughout the country that are similar to Homeboy Industries. He has also aided in the development of another eleven programs outside of the United States. These programs do not take the name “Homeboy Industries” because, as Boyle explained, Homeboy “doesn’t want to become the McDonald’s of gang member intervention.”
Through the development of Homeboy Industries and other similar programs, Boyle has been able to change the lives of many former gang members. It has grown into Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Diner, Homeboy Groceries, Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, and Homeboy Café. His programs provide resources to all that want them. They provide free tattoo removal, substance abuse support, legal services, mental health therapy programs, case managers, solar panel training, education, employment, and an environment to promote healing. Father G stressed that the healing process focuses on “dismantling messages of disgrace and shame…We are all in need of healing, all crying to be returned to wholeness.”
Boyle explained that maybe Mother Teresa was right when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” He reminded the audience of what kinship and community means. He related a story of two “homies,” Emmanuel and Snoopy, to the concept of kinship. His gang intervention program had given two former enemies the chance to be in kinship with one another. “They used to shoot bullets at each other, now they shoot text messages. We must stop separating the us and the them.”
Boyle praised Boston College’s “wonderful focus on service” that demonstrates “moving to the other shoreline.” This standing with those on the margins is the starting point that leads to kinship. Initially, there is a service recipient and a service provider with distance between each other, but eventually a connection is made and the two are able to join in commonality and mutuality. “The world changes if you stand with them. You change if you stand with them,” said Boyle.
Boyle announced, “Boston College is not the place you go to, but it will always be the place you go from.” When asked what his advice was to the Boston College graduating class of 2015, Father G responded, “Find your passion and follow it.”
“Unconditional love and truth will triumph in the end.”