From Homelessness to Dignity and Flourishing
FEBRUARY 11, 2023
by Laura Childers
For 150 years, The Bowery Mission has served generations of people experiencing homelessness, hunger, and poverty in New York City. From its humble beginnings in the Lower Manhattan slums to its present-day work across the city, the Mission has seen countless lives transformed through God’s love and acts of radical hospitality.
The history of The Bowery Mission has become the stuff of legend. It begins in the slums of New York City’s Water Street – a district notorious for its “river thieves, dunkards, gamblers, and women of the streets.” On October 8, 1872, with the help of a generous friend, Jerry and Maria McAuley took possession of a simple wooden building and put up a sign that read: “Helping Hand for Men.”
Leaving behind lives of alcoholism and crime for a new life of Christian faith, Jerry and Maria had a visionary idea: a place for all those in any kind of physical or spiritual need. Their mission had beds, endless food and coffee, and prayer in the evenings. Any New Yorker in need was welcomed into the Mission’s community of hope and restoration.
The simple concept was contagious. In the late nineteenth century, word of the McAuleys’ life-transforming work spread rapidly across the country and launched dozens of agencies committed to sharing the love of God while meeting human needs. In fact, between 1872 and 1892, more than one hundred missions opened in the United States as a direct result of the McAuleys’ influence.
For fifteen decades, the McAuley legacy has lived on through countless stories of redemption at The Bowery Mission. Earlier this year, The Bowery Mission released the Lives Transformed, a collection of these stories from the 1870s to today.
The collection, beginning with the McAuley story itself, is a testament to what can happen when just one person is welcomed into a community of love and grace – the impact they can have on their family, their neighborhoods and their workplaces as they carry that legacy forward.
Through the lives of Jerry and Maria McAuley, we see that nobody is lost to God. And now, through the lives of so many others, we see that this message is no less true today than it was 150 years ago.