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Advocates of Catholic Social Thought

So by now you have an idea of what Catholic Social Thought means and some ideas about how you can get involved in your community. But working for social justice and upholding Catholic Social Thought principles is more difficult than it sounds. It is easy to get discouraged in the face of so much injustice and oppression. Here are the stories of a few selected leaders who exemplify what it means to live Catholic Social Thought principles and whose lives demonstrate that, with God, all things are possible and you are not alone.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J. (1954-present)

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 entered the order of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) 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. During 1993, he served as Chaplain of the Islas Marias Penal Colony in Mexico and Folsom Prison, before returning to Los Angeles and Dolores Mission. The year 2009 was the 25th anniversary of Father Greg’s ordination as a priest. 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/Homegirl Merchandise, and Homegirl Café. As Executive Director of Homeboy Industries and an acknowledged expert on gangs and intervention approaches, Fr. Boyle is a nationally renowned speaker. Fr. Greg has received numerous accolades and recognitions on behalf of Homeboy and for his work with former gang members (taken from Homeboy Industries' "About Us" website: http://www.homeboy-industries.org/father-greg.php).

Selected Writings:

Dorothy Day (1897-1980)

Dorothy Day was born in New York in 1897.  From a young age, she was drawn to literature and writing.  She decided early on that the social order was unjust and strived to work against it.  In 1922, she roomed with three young practicing Catholic women in Chicago who showed her the merits of thanksgiving, worship, adoration, and supplication.  But it was not until the baptism of her daughter, Tamar, in 1927, that she became a member of the Catholic Church.  In 1933, she co-founded The Catholic Worker Movement newspaper.  Its purpose was (and still is) to publicize Catholic Social Thought and promote steps to bring about the transformation of society.  Originally published in May with 2,500 copies, by December the number had increased to 100,000 each month.  The paper voiced discontent with the social order, sided with labor unions, and challenged urbanization and industrialism.  It was radical and religious, and called on readers to make personal responses in their own lives.  The editors of the paper were themselves challenged when homeless people began knocking on their door.  The Movement made the decision to rent an apartment to provide housing for these people.  By 1936 there were 33 Catholic Worker houses across the country.  Her pacifist views got her in trouble during WWII, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War, but she continued to preach nonviolence.  She also gave support to the civil rights movement and was nearly shot during a visit to a farm where people from both races lived and worked together.  She is currently a candidate for sainthood. 

Click here to visit The Catholic Worker Movement website.

Selected Writings:

Dr. Paul Farmer (1959-present)

Paul Farmer is a medical anthropologist and physician who has dedicated his life to treating the world’s poor populations in an effort to raise the standard of healthcare in the world.  In 1983, he travelled to Haiti as a student and began working with communities there.  In 1987, he founded a non-profit organization called Partners in Health whose mission is both medical and moral, grounded in solidarity rather than charity alone, to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care.  Today, Partners in Health serves thousands of people a day in Haiti and eight other countries.  He is currently Presley Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Farmer has both taught in and served as a course director for social-medicine courses in the Department. He also trains medical students, residents, and fellows at the Brigham and Women's Hospital. He has been a visiting professor at institutions throughout the U.S. as well as in France, Canada, Peru, the Netherlands, Russia, and Central Asia.  He has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Duke University Humanitarian Award, the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, and the American Medical Association's International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award, and the Heinz Award for the Human Condition.

Dr. Farmer spoke at the University of San Diego as part of the 20th Annual Social Issues Conference on October 8, 2009.

Click here to visit the Partners in Health website.

Selected Writings:

Sr. Helen Prejean (1939-present)

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1939, Sr Helen Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph de Medaille in 1957.  She is most famous for her prison work with death row inmates.  This ministry began for her in 1981 when, working in a housing project in New Orleans, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers who had been sentenced to execution by electric chair.  At his request, Sr. Helen began to visit him and serve as his spiritual director.  It was her experience with Sonnier and her horror with the American the execution process that led to the writing of her famous book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, which later became a major motion picture directed by Tim Robbins and starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon (both available at USD's Copley Library).  In 1999, she formed Moratorium 2000, a petition that collected 2.5 million signatures calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty that was presented to then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  Today, she continues to serve death row inmates as well as educating the public about the death penalty, advocating against its practice, and reaching out to murder victims through the organization Survive, which she founded. 

Selected Writings:

Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980)

Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 and is a leading figure associated with Catholic Social Thought and the Latin American liberation theology movement.  Less than a month after his appointment, his long-time friend Rutilio Grande was assassinated because of his work with farm cooperatives.  His death was the trigger for Romero’s action.  He began to speak out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, disappearances, and torture.  He argued against support of the Salvadoran government because it supported assassinations and terror.  In 1980, Romero wrote a letter to then President Jimmy Carter asking him to stop sending arms to the oppressive government.  His appeals went unheeded.  On March 23, 1980, he called on soldiers to obey God and stop facilitating the government’s oppression and human rights violations.  He was assassinated the next day while celebrating mass.  Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have said publicly that Romero was a martyr for the faith, and he is being considered for canonization.   

Selected Writings:

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Mother Teresa was born in Macedonia in 1910.  She joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns in India, at the age of eighteen.  In 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun.  From 1931 to 1948, she taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, but the plight of the poor affected her so deeply that in 1948 she sought and received permission from her superiors to leave the school and work in the slums of the area.  She founded an open-air school for slum children, and in 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.  The Society of Missionaries is now an international network serving the poor and marginalized across the globe.  During her life, she received the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize the 1971 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 among other awards and recognitions.  Following her death she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.” 

Contact Information

Catholic Social Thought
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-4600
cst@sandiego.edu