Father Gregory Boyle: Bringing Light in Dark Places

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Paul Tucker

Father Gregory Boyle, priest and creator of Homeboy Industries, recently came to UCSB to talk to students and faculty. When college students hear about a priest speaking for 90 minutes, they’re probably far from enthused. Boyle was the opposite of what many would expect.

A white man with a beard emulating Santa Claus, Boyle started off with funny anecdotes of his work with gang members. Boyle teetered on the fence between preacher and stand up comedian that kept the audience in awe and howling with laughter at the same time.

He would poke fun at the gang members; in one example, he said that one gang member had called him from jail and said that they were charging him with being the ugliest vato in the world. Boyle then said the gang member stated that he needed Boyle to come down there and prove to them that it was false. Laughter ensued, and Boyle was able to intertwine that funny story with his main message: “To live life at the margins.”

Boyle spoke about his creation of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang rehabilitation program in the world. Boyle spoke of the good: how they have given ex-gang members a chance to change their lives and better themselves. He also spoke about the bad: how he would be burying his 216th gang member this next Tuesday. Boyle’s hour long speech mixed the good with the bad, and brought out an honest yet moving talk about events in his life.

Boyle was ordained a priest in the Society of the Jesuits in 1984. He attended Gonzaga University as well as Loyola Marymount University for his schooling and recently published his book, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” based on his 20 years living the Latino Barrio lifestyle.

Students, parents, grandparents, and faculty all were enthralled by his humor, compassion, wit, and intelligence. The most moving moment of the night came when Boyle spoke about his time going back to Gonzaga. He had been invited back to speak and had brought two ex-gang members to speak about their lives in a five minute talk. One, Mario, was an ex-gang member who was covered in tattoos. The only spot that did not have ink was near his eyes. Boyle said that when he and Mario walked through the airport, “Mothers held onto their children a little tighter.”

Mario spoke about his life filled with hardships, trauma, and abuse. After the introduction, there was a short question and answer. A woman stood up and asked Mario, “What advice do you give your children as they continue to grow older?”

An emotional Mario responded, “To not be like me.”

That same woman stood back up and said, “You are smart, kind, loving, and brave. I hope your children grow up to be just like you.” Mario was filled with emotion as 2,000 people at Gonzaga rose and applauded him.

The same thing happened after Father Gregory Boyle finished this anecdote as everyone stood up and applauded him. I went into Campbell Hall expecting to catch up on my sleep; instead, I walked out Googling other things I could learn about this great man. Boyle came to UCSB to talk about his life, and undoubtedly left an impact on those who came to listen to him on Tuesday night.

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