McAuley, Jeremiah (‘Jerry’) (c.1839–84), reformed criminal and missionary, was born in Ireland, the abandoned son of a counterfeiter. Raised by his grandmother as a Roman Catholic, he did not attend school and at the age of 13 was sent to America to live with his sister in New York. There he fell into crime, becoming a river thief and prizefighter until his arrest at the age of 19 for highway robbery. Although possibly innocent of the crime, he was sentenced to fifteen and a half years imprisonment at Sing Sing prison. While in jail he attended talks by a missionary convict, Orville ‘Awful’ Gardiner, and began to meditate on the mistakes of his life. Released in 1864, after serving more than half his sentence, he soon returned to crime and alcohol, acting as a thief, smuggler, and fence. His conscience was uneasy, however, and he decided to go back to religion, converting to protestantism, despite the best efforts of his sister.
After claiming to have had a vision of himself helping the poor, he raised money from various organisations, and on 8 October 1872 set up a mission at 316 Water St., New York. Assisted by his wife, Maria, who had shared his life of crime, he tended to the poor, providing food and clothing, as well as religious instruction. In 1876 an autobiographical sketch of his life was published as Transformed, or The history of a river thief. The same year he was given a new building by an eccentric member of the consolidated stock exchange, and renamed the mission the McAuley Water Street Mission; in 1882 he also founded the Cremorne Mission on West 32nd St. Turning to journalism to promote his endeavours, in June 1883 he began Jerry McAuley's Newspaper which included accounts of his work and statements from those who had converted. He died of consumption on 18 September 1884 and was buried at Woodlawn cemetery. The Rev. Robert M. Offord edited his autobiography, which was reprinted in 1885 as Jerry McAuley: his life and work. McAuley's work continued after his death, and his mission still operates at 90 Lafayette St., New York.