Tattoos on the Heart – Father Gregory Boyle, S.J.


Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Lucasbooks (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0345509064
ISBN-13: 978-0345509062
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Recently a minister friend of mine posted this quote from Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything; it’s how the light gets in.” He then proceeded to open a discussion by asking people to “share a crack / fault / wound of your own life, but also try to catch a glimspe of the gold that sparkles from with it…” When I read Tatoos of the Heart I had that conversation in mind, and briefly that describes the whole topic of this book. It’s about the wounded. Some wounded very deeply, and how they manage through love and compassion, to let the light shine.

This book is about Father Gregory Boyle, S. J. (Society of Jesus), a Jesuit Priest in Los Angeles.  Father Boyle started a program for gang members in his neighborhood.  The program covers things from job training, to tattoo removal, education, mental health and general counseling.  Throughout the book, Father Boyle presents the good and the bad.  Some of the tales you find yourself laughing along with him, while others you feel the depth of his pain.   It’s not just about him though, it is about the gang members, how they try to change, and sometimes despite the changes, their past catches up to them.  It’s also about the compassion.  The love of Christ to accept everyone, and to drop the walls that allow us to exclude this person or that person because they don’t fit our ideas of what Christlike behavior is. 

I absolutely loved this story, and love what Father Boyle is accomplishing in these lives.  There is some stronger language, some strong events, due to the content of these stories.  I think young readers might have trouble, but anyone over 14 or 15 should have no issues with it, and parents shouldn’t be wary of letting their teenagers read it, or reading it themselves.  I’d recommend that you do read it.  It definitely gives you a different impression of the “gang life” then you get from the nightly news, or from the movies.  These are the stories of real boys and young men, some who had their lives snuffed out before they had a chance to live them, but even in those cases, those who knew Father Boyle found love even if briefly.

About the Author:

Fr. Gregory Boyle – best known as Fr. Greg by all who meet him — was born in Los Angeles, one of eight children. His father, a third-generation Irish-American, worked in the family-owned dairy in Los Angeles County and his mother worked to keep track of her large family. As a youth, Fr. Greg and several of his siblings worked side by side with their father in the dairy. After graduating from Loyola High School in Los Angeles in 1972, he decided to become a Jesuit and was ordained a priest in 1984. 

He received his BA in English from Gonzaga University; an MA in English from Loyola Marymount University; a Master of Divinity from the Weston School of Theology; and a Sacred Theology Masters degree from the Jesuit School of Theology. 

Prior to 1986 Fr. Boyle taught at Loyola High School and worked with Christian Base Communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He was appointed as Pastor of Dolores Mission in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1986 where he served through 1992. He then served as Chaplain of the Islas Marias Penal Colony in Mexico and Folsom Prison, before returning to Los Angeles and Dolores Mission. 

Homeboy Industries traces its roots to “Jobs For A Future” (JFF), a program created in 1988 by Fr. Greg at Dolores Mission parish. In an effort to address the escalating problems and unmet needs of gang-involved youth, Fr. Greg and the community developed positive alternatives, including establishing an elementary school, a day care program and finding legitimate employment for young people. JFF’s success demonstrated the model followed today that many gang members are eager to leave the dangerous and destructive life on the “streets.” 

In 1992, as a response to the civil unrest in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg launched the first business (under the organizational banner of JFF and Proyecto Pastoral, separated from Dolores Mission Church): Homeboy Bakery with a mission to create an environment that provided training, work experience, and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side. The success of the Bakery created the groundwork for additional businesses, thus prompting JFF to become an independent non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries, in 2001. Today Homeboy Industries’ nonprofit economic development enterprises include Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy/HomegirlMerchandise, and HomegirlCafé
This year, 2008, marks the 20th Anniversary of the work Father Greg began. Homeboy Industries, now located in downtown Los Angeles, is recognized as the largest gang intervention program in the county, and has become a national model.
See the Homeboy Industries site here. All the author’s net proceeds from this book will aid Homeboy Industries, and at the site you can also make donations.

*Disclaimer* A special thanks goes out to Nilki at Condor Book Tours for a review copy of this book.

You can discuss it here or join my facebook page and discuss it there.

7 Responses to “Tattoos on the Heart – Father Gregory Boyle, S.J.”

  1. Bookventures Says:

    Oh I heard about this book. I heard that it’s pretty good. My friend got emotional because of some of the stories that were present in the book. I hope you enjoyed it. I am looking around to see if i can snag a copy.

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