Cesar Chavez called Monsignor Gene Boyle
to be a priest of the farm worker movement
United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez and Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez issued the following joint statement from their Keene, Calif. headquarters after the death of Monsignor Eugene Boyle, 94, in Palo Alto, Calif. on Tuesday, May 24, 2016:
It was with genuine sadness that we learned of the passing of Monsignor Gene Boyle who over six decades became an activist priest of the farm worker movement. Msgr. Boyle was ordained in the Diocesan order to serve as a parish priest. But he was called by Cesar Chavez to push the boundaries of what a priest should be. He wasn’t content being on the periphery of social justice by just standing with the poor; Msgr. Boyle placed himself directly in the center of things, from the farm workers’ darkest hours to their greatest triumphs.
Cesar Chavez asked in the 1960s, “What do we want the [Catholic] Church to do? We don’t ask for more cathedrals…We ask for its presence with us, besides us, as Christ [was] among us. We ask the Church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds.”
Msgr. Boyle lived those words. Over more than 50 years he was everywhere with the farm workers. He learned to fly and obtained a pilot’s license so he could more quickly get up and down the state to join picket lines, rallies, marches, fasts, demonstrations, union contract signings and Masses.
“He had a deep personal affiliation with the Chavez family and the farm worker movement,” said Father Jon Pedigo, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in East San Jose. “Cesar Chavez influenced Gene Boyle rather than the other way around.” Msgr. Boyle’s dedication to the farm workers “was almost a visceral feeling, not just intellectual,” Father Pedigo said.
A man possessing great talents, Msgr. Boyle’s activism with the movement sometimes placed his career at risk, especially decades ago. He could have risen higher in the Church but chose instead to be an advocate among the poor. He didn’t become a monsignor until much later in his ministry.
The farm worker movement he served so faithfully shall always be grateful for Msgr. Boyle’s ministry among us. We will cherish his memory.
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Monsignor Gene Boyle (center) singing with a rabbi and nuns during a UFW event in the 1960s. On the left is Father Bill O’Donnell with St. Joseph the Workman Catholic Church in Berkeley.
Msgr. Gene Boyle presenting the host to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy at the outdoor Mass ending Cesar Chavez’s 25-day fast for nonviolence on May 10, 1968 in Delano, Calif.