Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, Calif., the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.
He entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1972 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1984. Father Boyle holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Gonzaga University, a master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University, a Master of Divinity degree from the Weston School of Theology, and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.
After ordination, Father Boyle spent a transformative year living and working with Christian base communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In 1986, he was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles. At the time, Dolores Mission was the poorest Catholic parish in the city, located amidst two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles. He witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community during the so-called “decade of death” that began in the late 1980s and peaked at 1,000 gang-related killings in 1992.
In the face of law enforcement tactics and criminal justice policies of suppression and mass incarceration as the means to end gang violence, Father Boyle and parish and community members adopted what was a radical approach at the time: treat gang members as human beings. They sought to address the escalating problems and unmet needs of gang-involved youth by developing positive opportunities for them, including establishing an alternative school and day care program, and seeking out legitimate employment. They called this initial effort Jobs for a Future.
“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said. “Gangs are the places kids go when they discover their life to be a misery, and misery loves company. It’s about kids who can’t imagine their future so they plan their funerals. Hope is an essential thing. Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”
In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jobs for a Future and Proyecto Pastoral, a community-organizing project begun at Dolores Mission, launched their first social enterprise in an abandoned bakery across the street from the church that Hollywood producer Ray Stark helped them purchase. They called it Homeboy Bakery.
When his term as pastor of Dolores Mission ended later in 1992, Father Boyle spent his tertianship (the final year of Jesuit formation) serving as a chaplain at the Islas Marias Federal Penal Colony in Mexico and at Folsom State Prison in California.
In the ensuing years after his return to Jobs for a Future in 1993, the success of Homeboy Bakery created the groundwork for additional social enterprises, leading Jobs for a Future in 2001 to become an independent nonprofit organization, Homeboy Industries.
Today, Homeboy Industries employs and trains former gang members and felons in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to thousands of men and women who walk through its doors every year seeking a better life.
Father Boyle is the author of the New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, which was named one of the Best Books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and received the PEN Center USA 2011 Creative Nonfiction Award. His new book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, was published in 2017.
The subject of Academy Award-winner Freida Lee Mock’s 2012 documentary, G-Dog, Father Boyle has received the California Peace Prize and been inducted into the California Hall of Fame. In 2014, President Obama named Father Boyle a Champion of Change. He received the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation, the national culinary-arts organization.
He was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s 2017 Laetare Medal, the oldest honor given to American Catholics.
Currently, he serves as a committee member of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Economic and Job Recovery Task Force for the COVID-19.