Father Greg Boyle shares message of boundless compassion
Father Greg Boyle had a specific message for the approximately 600 people, many of whom work or volunteer for non-profits or attend the University of Saint Francis, who listened to him speak in Fort Wayne on October 8.
“If you go to the margins to fix or rescue or save then it’s about you and you will burn out. If you go to the margins to connect, you will be eternally replenished because my joy is your joy and your joy is my joy,” said Father Boyle.
Boyle, a Jesuit priest who founded one of the largest gang intervention programs in the world, encouraged those in attendance to look at their volunteerism or work with clients in a new way by saying, “Stop trying to reach them. The question is ‘Can you be reached by them?’”
While delivering his message, Boyle peppered his talk with shocking stories as well as humorous anecdotes. He explained that the youth he has worked with over the years are looking to be seen and valued as human beings. He told the story of one former gang member named José who wore three shirts to school every day for years so he could hide the bloody wounds he suffered at the hands of his abusive mother. Boyle’s ministry, Homeboy Industries, helped José see himself as worthwhile, as someone who had something to offer the world, and José could then move to a life without violence or gangs.
Boyle said people like José, those who are without hope and discarded by society, are living in the margins, and that’s where volunteers and social service workers must go in order to “return them to themselves so they know they are what God has made.”
While working in the margins, Boyle said he finds what he calls kinship, as well as plenty of humor.
“One day a homie texted asking me for $100 to pay rent,” said Boyle. “I texted back that ‘things are tight.’ Autocorrect changed it to ‘thongs are tight,’ and the homie responded ‘sorry to hear that but what about my rent?’”
Stasia Roth, executive director of A Mother’s Hope, enjoyed hearing both the funny and serious messages, and shared that she first heard Boyle speak in April 2001 when she was just beginning a career in social service.
“When I heard Father Boyle speak that day, it was career and life changing,” said Roth. “I’m so grateful for Father Boyle and how he encouraged me to love others for who they are, not as the world would have it, but as Jesus would. I hope people who heard him speak here in Fort Wayne are touched in a similar way.”
Dr. Dave Johnson, professor of Nursing at the University of Saint Francis, says many students were as inspired as Roth was.
“Fr. Boyle had a tremendous impact on USF students and faculty in nursing, allied health fields, social work, education, criminology, and other disciplines that were in attendance both in the auditorium as well as virtually in live stream gatherings,” said Johnson. “Faculty met with students for an interdisciplinary debriefing immediately following the talk. Students expressed awe and described the presentation as spellbinding, captivating, and transformative. They related to the stories he revealed with real life wisdom. They noted that his talk reinforced a Franciscan value of honoring the unique dignity of every person. The themes of boundless compassion and kinship resonated for the students who are passionately entering careers where they will look into the eyes of people at the margin and hear the words of Fr. Boyle for years to come.”
As a professor for the University of Saint Francis as well as a board member of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, Johnson helped plan Boyle’s visit to Fort Wayne. Both organizations sponsored Boyle’s local appearance as a way to inspire compassionate service in the community.
“The St. Joe Foundation works hard to carry forward the mission of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, our sponsor,” said Meg Distler, executive director of the Foundation. “Father Boyle shares many of the same values as the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ: humility, simplicity and the belief that each person should be treated with dignity and respect. I hope his words emphasize how each one of us can make a difference by simply listening and loving.”
While in Fort Wayne, Boyle signed copies of his latest book, “The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness,” which is now on sale nationwide. Proceeds from the book sales support Homeboy Industries.
To learn more about Homeboy Industries visit: https://homeboyindustries.org.