1839 – 1884
Jerry McAuley was born in 1839 in County Kerry, Ireland. His father was a counterfeiter who fled home to escape the law. At the age of thirteen, Jerry was sent to America to live with a married sister in New York City. Soon he was running with a gang on Water Street and was supporting himself by stealing. Later he was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in Sing Sing Prison.
While in prison, McAuley began to read the Bible in search of forgiveness for his sins. After reading it through twice, he was converted to Christ through the efforts of a lady missionary who visited the prison. His attitude and conduct changed to the effect that he was let out of prison in 1864 after serving seven years and two months. In October, 1872, McAuley, his wife, and a few helpers opened the Water Street Mission in the heart of the slum section of New York City.
Night after night, many of the seats were filled with drunks and tramps looking for a place of rest and relief from the cold. McAuley’s mission accepted anyone regardless of how dirty he looked, how foul he smelled or how uncertainly he stood to his feet. The services of the mission were not limited to the physical needs of the men, as Gospel meetings were conducted nightly. Singing, testimonies, and preaching competed with the shouts and noises of the Water Street slums. The Water Street Mission, under McAuley’s direction, became an example of Christian compassion for the down and out.
Tens of thousands of bums, transients, drunks, and harlots heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ; many of them responded to the invitation. Although McAuley died in 1884, his influence lives on today through the work of the mission.