So of course, I did some research. Jerry McAuley was reacquainted with his spiritual side while in Sing Sing (serving time for a crime he insisted he did not commit). However, it wasn’t until after he was released and was repeatedly helped by a city missionary when he truly realized the importance and impact of having access to such a support system.
Together, with financial help from Alfrederick Smith Hatch, the Consolidated Stock Exchange president, they opened the Helping Hand Mission at 316 Water St. in October, 1872. Men homeless, hopeless, jobless, desperate, addicted, unwanted — these were its invited guests, to be fed, to be given a place to stay, to experience acceptance — their being accepted and, if they so chose, their accepting God.
Nightly, the small and ill-ventilated meeting hall, whose walls were adorned with Scriptural texts, would fill up with ex-convicts, drunkards and other men “on the skids.” From 7:30 to 9, there would be hymns, a Bible reading, a brief talk by McAuley, and testimonies by participants as the spirit moved them to tell their own individual stories.
These personal revelations helped both the tellers and the listeners realize they were no longer alone in their situation and that change was possible. In his brief remarks, McAuley would challenge his listeners to take charge of their lives in order to effect the change for the better.
The McAuleys helped thousands of men in need, providing them with not only food and comfort but a sense of belonging and a place where they could change their life around–just like Jerry himself.