On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Villanova freshmen had the honor of listening to Father Gregory Boyle, SJ. In 1986, Father Boyle was named pastor of Dolores Mission Church, the poorest Catholic church within Boyle Heights, and he was exposed to gang violence and its devastating impact on communities. By 1988, Father Boyle, alongside parish and community members, began to make a change.
Father Boyle’s organization is dedicated to assisting former gang members in financial and even more so emotional ways. The organization works with individuals by setting up employment, providing services and being a supporting body for anyone looking to turn their life in a positive direction.
The summit was centered around the idea of radical kinship and mutuality that is also an honored theme within Father Boyle’s organization.
University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. introduced the guest speaker and spoke about the mission of his organization and the importance of service that allows others to improve the lives of others. “His work has allowed him to be open to the presence of other people,” Donohue said, “and allow people to share who they are and how they are.”
Father Boyle then began to speak on why the service he provides was revolutionary. He spoke on the idea of treating ex-gang members and ex-offenders as human beings. He said people often find this to be a basic idea, but further explained that when people make certain mistakes in their lives, this idea does not always remain clear.
“We must stand with those whose dignity has been denied,” Boyle said.
Father Boyle explained his mission of removing barriers between service providers and service recipients. He spoke on behalf of bonds in service that can not only help and alter the lives of those seeking help but also make an impact for those providing the help.
To emphasize the mission Father Boyle works for on a daily basis, he spoke about a series of individuals who he helped throughout his time in Homeboy Industries. Ex-gang members are called “homies” when they are entered in the program, and Father Boyle first spoke about a homie that was nicknamed “Dreamer.” This homie was in and out of jail, doing pockets of drug trafficking in order to make money.
Homeboy Industries ultimately set up Dreamer with a job at a vending machine company, and Father Boyle detailed the day Dreamer walked back into his office. Father Boyle admitted he was nervous for what the unexpected meeting would bring, but Dreamer came in to show that the mission was being accomplished. The homie pulled out his paycheck for Father Boyle to see. “This paycheck makes me feel proper. My mom is proud of me and my kids are not ashamed of me,” Dreamer said.
He then went on to say he that he was thankful that God had come into his life and helped provide the job he became proud to work.
The following story then brought forward another issue that was so common in the gang-affected community: education. Father Boyle spoke of the vast amount of junior high aged individuals who wanted to be educated but were kicked out of schools with no other places available to them. “I said to these kids, ‘Hey if I found a school that would take you would you go,’“ Father Boyle expalined, “and to my surprise every single one said, ‘Yeah, I would.’ ”
So, Father Boyle asked the sisters of his parish if they would be willing to give up the covenant, which was at the top floor of the parish’s school, for these individuals to be educated. Through service, the school was then created and allowed for kinship to prosper amongst the educators and students. Again, Father Boyle emphasized the dismantling of barriers that the school provided.
Father Boyle then concluded his talk on the biggest project Homeboy Industries initiated. With a filmmaker and $500 million, Homeboy Industries built their own bakery as a source for employment. Father Boyle spoke of how rival gang members worked side by side. “They used to shoot bullets at each other and now they shoot texts to each other, there’s a word for that: kinship,” Boyle said.
Despite threats against the bakery from people who did not seek the same mission of helping these former gang members, and an accident resulting in the destruction of the bakery it was rebuilt and the mission went on. The jobs provided allowed these men and women to have a purpose and a reason to wake up in the morning and be proud of themselves.
Father Boyle ended the night by explaining the importance of kinship. “Our program is not for those who need help but those who want it,” the founder and director of Homeboy Industries said. “It is no longer us and them, but now just us."