Fr Boyle of Homeboy Industries in Glasgow
Two years ago Fr. Greg Boyle SJ was visiting Scotland at the invitation of Police Scotland. He kindly agreed to come to the College for his only available free hour to speak to S2 pupils who were taking part in the Being Different makes a Difference Retreat. His sharing that day, and the universal enthusiasm with which his remarks were received by both pupils and staff, prompted the decision to invite him back to Glasgow to speak to a wider audience. That hope became a reality on Tuesday 8 September as Fr. Boyle spoke to all pupils in S3-S6 during morning assemblies and gave a public lecture in the evening.
In the 1980s Fr. Boyle became pastor of Dolores Mission in Los Angeles. The neighbourhood had the largest concentration of gangs, not only in the city but in the entire United States. It was in this context that he began the task of trying to help the parish and the young men and women caught up in the area’s pattern of violence to make a new beginning. Eventually, it led to the creation of Homeboy Industries as a means of helping to provide jobs and training for former gang members. Their work includes providing tattoo removal, mental health and substance abuse services, and training in areas such as silk screening and the catering industry. Homeboy’s presence can be felt around the city of Los Angeles with a diner at the LA City Hall and a café at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Each year over 10,000 former gang members from across Los Angeles come through Homeboy Industries’ doors.
Homeboy Industries is now the largest gang intervention programme in the United States. Fr. Boyle has advised government and police both in the U.S. and internationally. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion and is currently working on his second book, Barking to the Choir: Now Entering the Kinship of God.
Katie Munro, an S6 pupil at the College and a member of the Justice and Peace Society, shared her views on Fr. Boyle’s visit.
Fr. Boyle explained the need for his work within the Los Angeles area and his parish in particular, where there were no less than eight rival gangs when he first arrived. The need was heartbreakingly highlighted when he told us that since the 1980s, he had buried over two hundred young people. He then spoke about Homeboy Industries, and their main objective; to aid gang members from Los Angeles in getting jobs, getting their lives together, for example through Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe and other projects. Well received was his joke about Homeboy Plumbing being a failure; 'Funny, people didn't seem to want gang members in their homes.' Similarly welcomed was the story of one previous gang member with a rather explicit tattoo across his forehead and how he had commented, 'You know I'm finding it hard to get a job.' The point of this story was that it prompted the creation of the free tattoo removal service that Homeboy Industries provides to thousands each year.
Fr. Boyle told stories of individuals he has found himself coming to know well over the years, for example, Mario, a man covered in tattoos and the "kindest soul" he had ever met. While at a talk in the U.S., Mario told the audience in tears that he hoped his children wouldn't turn out like him. Movingly, Fr. Boyle recalled how an audience member told Mario that he hoped his own children turned out like Mario, because he was kind and loving and dedicated to his children and making their lives better than his had been. Accounts such as this were a key feature of the talk, in some cases moving members of the audience to tears. In particular he stressed that no one joins a gang to belong; only to run away from something.
Fr. Boyle spoke wonderfully, practically in poetry, and captivated the audience for the entirety of the talk. It is fair to say that all who heard him speak were inspired by both his work and his words.
Fr. Boyle’s message poses a significant challenge for all as he urges his listener to stand on the margins alongside the easily despised and demonised so that the demonising stops. He finished his talk by asking students to consider that St. Aloysius’ College is not a place you go to; it is the place you come from. Thus, asking us to consider how we create a bond of kinship that Jesus would recognise.