Book Review: Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Gregory Boyle

Free Press; $14.99, 240 pp.


Sarah and Fr Boyle 1
Sarah Woodford (Director of the Fay Vincent Library) & Father Gregory Boyle


What do working with homies and homegirls teach Father Boyle about God? That God is loving and attentive, no matter what—always looking past our inadequacies and longing to be in relationship with us. In Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, published by Free Press, Father Gregory Boyle brings this theology to life through the stories of homies and homegirls, young men and women he met through his work as the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, California, and later as the executive director of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles gang intervention program that offers gang members tattoo removal, psychiatric help, community, love and employment.

All the stories Father Boyle (or G-dog as the homies and homegirls like to call him) tells are simple and powerful. The one I remember the clearest is that of sixteen-year-old Terry, who attends a parish hall dance in a stunning red dress. Father Boyle compliments her on her outfit and she giddily replies: “Promise me something, G…Promise me, that I get buried in this dress” (89). Many of the stories are tragic, some of the stories are hopeful, some of the stories are funny, but all are poignant, raw windows into the lives of Homeboy Industries’ young men and women. And it is through these stories that Father Boyle points out God’s loving presence in the ghetto. Like in the story of Miguel, who hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for enemy gang members, because, just like him, they were orphans and had no place else to go.

Tattoos on the Heart is a powerful piece of non-fiction and theology, inviting the reader into the world of the homies and homegirls of Homeboy Industries. Yes, their stories bring us into spaces of violence and pain, but we are all the better for it. For in learning their stories, these young men and women become a part of us, drawing us one step closer to God’s desire for communities of holy, unceasing love.

~Sarah Woodford, Director of the Fay Vincent Library