Lessons from Practitioner-In-Residence Father Greg Boyle

Last week, Father Greg Boyle visited Duke as this year’s Kenan practitioner-in-residence. I was fortunate to spend some time listening to him speak and watching him connect with students. Some words that come to mind when I reflect on Father Greg’s character and personality include genuine, jolly, sincere, kind, wise, humble, & Santa Clausesque.

Father Greg is the executive director of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. For nearly thirty years, Father Greg has been a community organizer in Los Angeles, California, where Homeboy Industries operates. He has built and developed important relationships with local communities, and along the way, has gathered many interesting experiences to share with audiences across the nation. When I saw Father Greg talk, he would ease audience members into the conversation by recounting some of the stories about different relationships he had developed. Although I was familiar with a fair amount of his stories from reading his book, Father Greg told them with such enthusiasm and candor, that it seemed like it was his first time talking about the event and not his hundredth.

During the Do Lunch, an informal lunch chat for undergraduates, Father Greg gave an overview of his life timeline. He briefly talked about his time as a community organizer in 1970s Oakland; his international ministry in Bolivia and how it motivated him to work in the “poorest place” when he returned stateside; and his current placement in Los Angeles at Delores Mission. As Father Greg chronicled the past 28 years spent in L.A., it was clear that he has witnessed truly heartbreaking and unfair events. He recounted important time intervals such as the period of “undocumented immigration” from 1986-1988, or “decade of death,” a period of high violence from 1988-1998. It was clear to me that Father Greg possessed a quality that I hope to emulate one day. He focuses on the positive and takes pride in his work, without discounting the importance of the negative events, diluting them, or ignoring them. He has a very introspective way of looking at life – rationally recognizing that people may get angry for unjust occurrences and become discouraged with God or whoever they consider a higher power. But he challenges the idea that a god-like figure should be blamed and suggested that these figures are constantly “sav[ing us] in the present moment,” and that this should give us encouragement.

Throughout Father Greg’s visit, I tried to keep my notebook open to jot down the pearls of wisdom that were constantly flowing from his mouth:

  • “It’s where the joy is, follow the joy, it’s about the joy”
  • “Intentionality versus results”
  • “Why measure the world we live all the time?”
  • “Presume everyone is in a place of struggle. The answer is compassion, the trick is to get to a place of awe.”
  • “Savor the world vs. save the world”

He could read the room, understand the hidden questions, and not talk down to the group. It was an honor to witness the way Father Greg recounts his stories and convey pure emotion from these memories. One of the most important lessons that Father Greg voiced was “no matter what you can do you can learn from anybody and everybody.