Greg Boyle attended Loyola High School of Los Angeles, and upon graduating in 1972, entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and was ordained a priest in 1984. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, a master's degree in English from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, a Master of Divinity degree from the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California.
At the conclusion of his theology studies, Father Boyle spent a year living and working with Christian base communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Upon his return in 1986, he was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church, a Jesuit parish in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles that was then the poorest Catholic church in the city. At the time, the church sat between two large public housing projects and amid the territories of numerous gangs.
By 1988, in an effort to address the escalating problems and unmet needs of gang-involved youth, Father Boyle and parish and community members began to develop positive opportunities for them, including establishing an alternative school and a day care program, and seeking out legitimate employment, calling this initial effort Jobs for a Future. “Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said. “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 the parish, launched their first social enterprise business, Homeboy Bakery. In the ensuing years, the success of the bakery created the groundwork for additional social enterprise businesses, leading Jobs for a Future to become an independent nonprofit organization, Homeboy Industries
Homeboy Industries is the largest and most successful gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. Homeboy offers an “exit ramp” for those stuck in a cycle of violence and incarceration. The organization's holistic approach, with free services and programs, supports 10,000 men and women a year as they work to overcome their pasts, re-imagine their futures, and break the inter-generational cycles of gang violence. Therapeutic and educational offerings (case management, counseling, and classes), practical services (e.g., tattoo removal, work readiness, and legal assistance), and job training-focused business (e.g., Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café, and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery) provide healing alternatives to gang life, while creating safer and healthier communities.
Fr. Greg is also a consultant to youth service and governmental agencies, policy-makers and employers. Fr. Boyle serves as a member of the National Gang Center Advisory Board. He is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy in Los Angeles.
In 2010, Father Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, a book recollecting his 20+ years in the barrio, was published. It received positive reviews from many, ranging from human rights activists like Kerry Kennedy to actor Martin Sheen.
He was recently named the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, a national culinary-arts organization.
- "Priest Fights Gangs With 'Boundless Compassion'" Interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air conducted May 19, 2010, broadcast May 20, 2010; the birthday, and the delayed broadcast date, were mentioned in the audio only. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- "A statistical analysis of the art on convicts’ bodies". The Economist. Retrieved 2016-12-28.
- "Priest Fights Gangs With 'Boundless Compassion'" Interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, May 20, 2010; book excerpt on Web site; published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- Simon & Schuster page, Tattoos on the Heart "Praise" section. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- "Father Gregory Boyle". California Museum. 9 Sep 2011.
- "University names Fr. Gregory Boyle as 2017 Laetare Medal recipient". The Observer. 27 March 2017.