The Jesuits do not have a prescribed role to perform within a society, instead they have continually re-evaluated where their aid will be of most value, be it in education, caring for the sick, or any other function that needs warrant. For the past three decades Fr Greg Boyle SJ has done his utmost to curb the sickness that is gang culture in the poorest parts of the city of Los Angeles.
Born in Los Angeles in 1954, Greg Boyle was one of eight children. He attended Loyola High School, a Jesuit preparatory school, and after graduating in 1972, entered the Society of Jesus. Twelve years later he was ordained, after which he went to Bolivia, spending a year living and working with Christian base communities.
In 1986 Boyle returned to California, where he was appointed pastor at Dolores Mission in east L.A. At the time this was the poorest parish in the city, with two housing projects nearby and numerous gangs in the area. In an effort to address the plight of the young men and women caught up in the troubles associated with this gang culture, Boyle established Jobs for a Future, which tried to find legitimate jobs for gang members. Following riots in L.A. in 1992, Boyle went a step further and created Homeboy Bakery, a business which provides employment and experience for people seeking to get out of gangs. This venture proved a success and sparked numerous other related projects in the years that followed. Jobs for a Future morphed into Homeboy Industries, which comprises non-profit enterprises such as Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café, and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, as well as other facilities such as tattoo removal and counselling. In all, the purpose of Homeboy Industries is to provide means for people caught within a cycle of gang involvement and violence to get out and start a new life for themselves.
Despite sustaining serious financial losses in the wake of the recession, Homeboy Industries is still going and providing its services to an estimated ten thousand men and women each year. Now in his sixties, Father Boyle is still giving his time to help those in need. Not every attempt is a success and not every person walks away in the end with the new life they had hoped to build; Father Boyle has presided over more than two hundred funerals related to gang violence and culture. Despite the setbacks and the hardships however, he is still focused on giving the help he can to those in need.
The Jesuit will be presented with the University of Notre Dame’s highest Honour, the Laetare Medal, on May 21, at the college’s 172nd commencement ceremony. Previous recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, and actor Martin Sheen. Fr Greg is being given the award for being a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity” (Notre Dame News).