Fr. Greg Boyle presented a keynote address on Sept. 9 at St. John’s Church to kick off the annual Mission Week at Creighton.
Fr. Boyle, author of “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” and “Barking to the Choir,” is the founder of Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the United States.
Opening remarks for the event were provided by Eileen Burke-Sullivan, vice provost for mission and ministry, and Creighton President Fr. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J.
Hendrickson listed services Homeboy Industries offers to gang members, the “homies,” as Fr. Boyle calls them, such as offering jobs, removing tattoos and providing legal services.
“It is a place where their humanity is recognized,” Hendrickson included in his remarks on Homeboy Industries.
Fr. Boyle has spoken at Creighton in the past, including as the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremonies in 2009. Boyle said that he was “honored” to be welcomed back on campus.
Boyle shared stories of individuals that he has encountered in his work and the subsequent insight that he’s gained from these people and experiences.
College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Aidan Swanson said that Fr. Boyle’s lightheartedness and jokes created a relaxed atmosphere in the sold-out audience.
Swanson attended the lecture because he’d previously heard about Homeboy Industries and Fr. Boyle from family and friends. Swanson has also visited one of Homeboy’s restaurants in Los Angeles, where gang-affiliated individuals are employed in order to escape the streets.
“I always try to go and listen to people who have dedicated their life to altruism and working alongside people who are all too often overlooked by society,” Swanson said. “Fr. Boyle’s address reminded me that it is not enough for Creighton students, administrators, faculty and board members to simply speak in rich, elegant Jesuit language about solidarity, magis and other charisms. We must be willing to act with that same intensity to actually live out a preferential option for the poor, a commitment to the environment and a relinquishment of our concern with ostentatious aesthetics and materialism if we are to manifest Jesus’ teachings.”
In his lecture, Fr. Boyle spoke about placing ourselves at the “margins” of society.
“We choose to locate ourselves at the margins,” Boyle said. “We stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear. We stand with the poor. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable so that the day will come that we stop throwing them away. We stand against forgetting that we belong with each other. If we go to the margins, suddenly other voices will be heard.”
Another student who attended the event, College of Nursing junior Ella French, read Boyle’s “Tattoos on the Heart” in RSP class her freshman year and was interested to hear more about what he had to say.
“The most impactful part of Fr. Boyle’s speech was his message of encouragement not [to] go to the margins to make a difference, but to go to the margins so that the people there can make a difference in you. He emphasized the importance of living a life full of boundless love and compassion, which was a great reminder for me to hear,” French said.
“If their stories were flames, you’d have to keep your distance, or else you’d be torched,” Fr. Boyle said of the stories that the homies tell.
At the end of his lecture, Fr. Boyle told a story about an individual named Mario.
Fr. Boyle described Mario’s physical appearance as “the most tattooed individual in the entire establishment.”
“However, if you asked anyone who the kindest, most gentle soul is at Homeboy, they wouldn’t say it’s me. They’d tell you that it’s Mario,” Boyle said.