"I've known this man long enough to give him the benefit of a couple of HUNDRED doubts! He's not about to take a stand unless he feels it pretty deep!"
~Colonel Potter about Father Mulcahy (A Holy Mess)
"Boy... You're no soft touch."
~Klinger to Father Mulcahy (Mail Call Three)
First Lieutenant (later Captain) John Francis Patrick Mulcahy, commonly known as Father Mulcahy, is a fictional principal character in all three incarnations of M*A*S*H- the original Richard Hooker novel, the 1970 Robert Altman film, and in the television series. Mulcahy was portrayed in the film by René Auberjonois, by George Morgan in the TV pilot, and then throughout the remainder of the series by William Christopher. Throughout the first four seasons of the series William Christopher was mentioned only in the closing credits of the series, but was added to the opening credits beginning in season 5, after Jamie Farr (Klinger) was added in season 4.
Father Mulcahy's name was changed from John Patrick Francis Mulcahy to Francis John Patrick Mulcahy (as he revealed in episode 7 of Season 8 when asked by a nurse he was counseling). Either form of the name is an attempt to reconcile his identification as "Father John P. Mulcahy" in the pilot episode with the name "Francis Mulcahy" established later on.
In the novel and the film Mulcahy was supposedly of Italian and Irish descent, and as such was given the nickname "Dago Red"; the word 'Dago' is an offensive name for Italians, while 'Red' referred to the color of his hair and the type of wine used in holy sacrament, which in turn alluded to the derisive stereotype of Irish men being heavy drinkers.
By the time the TV series bowed, Mulcahy was depicted only as Irish, and was called "Red" once or twice by Hawkeye and Trapper before all vestiges of the nickname were permanently dropped. Later in the TV series he was affectionately addressed as "Padre" by Colonel Potter.
In the film (1970)
René Auberjonois played Father Mulcahy in the original 1970 film, a US Army chaplain assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. While most of the staff are not religious, they still treat Mulcahy with reverence. It is Mulcahy who informs Hawkeye that the camp dentist, "Painless" Waldowski, is severely depressed. Afterward, Mulcahy reluctantly helps the doctors to stage the famous "Last Supper" faux suicide, to convince Painless that he should continue with his life.
Throughout the film, Mulcahy seems bewildered by the doctors' immoral pranks and hedonistic behavior. When Radar places a hidden microphone inside Hot Lips' tent as she and Frank Burns are having sex, Trapper, Duke and other camp members listen in the orderly room, and Mulcahy at first mistakes their dialogue (and noises) for an episode of The Bickersons—then leaves abruptly when he realizes otherwise.
Mulcahy is the one who delivers the following memorable line in the film:
- Margaret (referring to Hawkeye): I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps.
- Mulcahy: He was drafted.
In the TV series
Mulcahy understands that many of the people in his "flock" are non-religious or have other faiths. Knowing this, he chooses to preach by example or by helping someone else see the error of their ways. Although he is ordained as a Catholic priest, Father Mulcahy has demonstrated a familiarity with most denominations, including offering a prayer in Hebrew for a wounded Jewish soldier (Cowboy), explaining the rituals of a Buddhist wedding to other attendees from the camp (Ping Pong), and doing a Methodist service on Sunday for Colonel Potter. He has mentioned more than once that he is inhibited by the Southern Baptist faith, calling it "frenetic and forceful".
Although his own quiet faith in God is unshakable, Mulcahy sometimes wonders whether his role as chaplain and spiritual leader has any importance compared to the doctors' prevalent talent for saving lives:
- In Showtime he mentions to Hawkeye that, as a man of the cloth, he cannot readily see the results of his work, while the doctors know almost immediately whether they are doing any good; Hawkeye responds to Mulcahy saying, "I'm able to do a lot of things in surgery that I'm really not good enough to do", which gives Mulcahy some degree of comfort.
- Later, Mulcahy is called to perform last rites on a borderline patient who suddenly recovers when Mulcahy takes his hand; Hawkeye reminds him of what he said about his own self-doubt, to which Mulcahy replies "It's not supposed to work that way, you know."
- In Dear Sis, Mulcahy, having similar issues that again advance his doubt as to whether he is doing any good, puts himself through the wringer after he punches a wounded Lieutenant who, demanding to see a doctor, needlessly slugged him first.
Despite his recurring self-doubts, Mulcahy is occasionally motivated to step out of his own comfort zone, volunteering for dangerous missions, including to demonstrate his own courage to a soldier who had shot himself in the foot to get out of combat duty (Mulcahy's War), helping a chopper pilot who lost his dummy counterweight (An Eye for a Tooth), and putting himself in harm's way to retrieve, or negotiate for, medical supplies (Tea and Empathy, Out of Gas).
Mulcahy maintains a deep compassion for others, which occasionally has to be tempered by the hard realism of particular circumstances. In Yessir, That's Our Baby, when an Amerasian infant is left in camp by her mother, Mulcahy warns the staff that delivering her to the orphanage is not a good idea, as miscegenated children are horribly mistreated in every level of Korean society. Alternatively, he proposes leaving her at a secluded monastery where she could be treated better, educated and perhaps transferred out of Korea when she's an adult. Hawkeye and the others resist this option and attempt to make other arrangements, but when they all fail, they concede that Mulcahy's solution is the only way and sadly act on his advice.
Mulcahy's moral code and sacred office very nearly get him in hot water on one occasion. In A Holy Mess, a soldier, Private Gillis, who just found out his wife back home had given birth to someone else's baby, goes AWOL from his unit and arrives at the 4077th. During Sunday service in the Mess Tent, Gillis' CO, Lieutenant Spears, arrives to arrest Gillis, but when Gillis asks the Father for sanctuary, he grants it to him then and there in the Mess Tent, much to Spears' consternation. Potter is dubious, but defends Mulcahy's actions to Spears who calls him a "mess tent monk". But even after all military channels decide against him, Mulcahy still refuses to turn Gillis over. When Spears orders his MPs to arrest him, Gillis goes for his rifle. After a brief struggle, Gillis aims it at Mulcahy, but Mulcahy angrily stares him down and rebukes him for using God's house for his own purpose, and then defiling it by pointing a deadly weapon at another human. Mulcahy is able to grab the rifle from Gillis and hurl it away, and Gillis collapses in sobs into Mulcahy's arms. For his role in subduing Gillis, Mulcahy avoids any punishment for initially sheltering him, and the priest is relieved that Gillis' mental distress is taken into account with him receiving psychiatric treatment in custody from Sidney Freedman.
By contrast, Father Mulcahy's clerical duties were sometimes more helpful than simply for their spiritual aspects. For instance, in Trick or Treatment, Mulcahy returns to the camp after celebrating Halloween at the orphanage and discovers a dead soldier in a truck parked there is Catholic. Father Mulcahy insists on giving him Last Rites and the attending soldiers agree to let him attend to it. However, while Father Mulachy performs the ritual, he is horrified that the supposed corpse is shedding a tear, a clear inidication that he is actually alive but is so comatose that he was mistaken for being dead. Without a second to lose, Father Mulcahy calls for Hawkeye and the soldier is immediately rushed to surgery, which proves a success.
To a fault, Father Mulcahy is a selfless person in every way, but even he occasionally has his self-centered moments:
- A recurring example of this is when he is repeatedly passed over for promotion. In Captains Outrageous he is livid when he finds he is yet again left off the promotions list (the fourth time according to him), but after Potter intercedes on his behalf, Mulcahy gets his long-awaited due and is finally promoted to Captain saying, "The meek may inherit the earth, but it's the grumpy who get promoted!".
- Another example of his self-centeredness is in Blood Brothers, as he is frantically trying to get the camp in ship shape for a visiting Cardinal, but inwardly he was looking for a pat on the back, and to his aggravation most of the of the camp is uncooperative, causing him to verbally lash out at them. But Mulcahy is brought down off his high pulpit when Hawkeye reveals he just had to tell a patient he has Leukemia. He goes and talks with the ill soldier, and then during a special service for the Cardinal, which he forgot all about; Mulcahy finally realizes, and reveals to the attendees, how selfish he has been.
Mulcahy grew up in Philadelphia, and became a fan of many sports including baseball, football, wrestling, roller derby, and especially boxing; in Dear Sis, Mulcahy tells Hawkeye that he used to be a boxing coach at the CYO. One of his heroes is boxer "Gentleman" Joe Cavanaugh, and he holds bedside vigil in Post Op after the champion prize fighter suffers a fatal stroke during a dinner in his honor in camp. He confides in the dying and unconscious boxer that as a small and meek boy he was an easy target for neighborhood kids because he never fought back. But then his father took him to see a boxing match with Cavanaugh; by the ninth round of the bout his opponent had no fight left, and though the crowd was screaming for Cavanaugh to finish him off, he ended the fight then and there, which inspired the then-12-year-old Mulcahy.
To stay in shape, Mulcahy works out regularly in a gym in camp that has his own punching and speed bags. But in spite of this, he is often underestimated by visitors because of his size, his capacity in camp, and his normally quieter demeanor. In Captains Outrageous, he is called to put an end to a fight between a Greek and Turkish soldier who refuse to stay away from one another. Already in a rancid mood from again being passed over for promotion to Captain, Mulcahy storms into Post Op and orders the two to keep their distance from one another; when they warn the Father to mind his own business as their fight is between men, Mulcahy angrily responds that he could effortlessly take the two of them down, and then reminds them of what it says in the Good Book: "Love thy neighbor, or I'll punch your lights out!!"
Series finale & AfterMASH
In Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, while helping to get POWs out of a holding pen during an artillery barrage, he is temporarily knocked unconscious and loses most of his hearing when a shell explodes nearby. Only B. J. knows of his deafness, and helps him conceal this handicap from the others until after they all go home. At the last party before they all leave, he tells everyone that he intends to leave the priesthood and work with the deaf, adding that, "I'll miss hearing confessions, but after listening to you people for so long, I think I've just about heard it all!"
Reprising his role as Father Mulcahy, William Christopher was one of three M*A*S*H regulars, including Harry Morgan and Jamie Farr, to co-star in the sequel series AfterMASH. Christopher, Morgan and Farr were the only three who wanted to continue with the original series while the rest of the cast came to a decision that the show's eleventh season would be its last.
After returning home to Philadelphia, Mulcahy, distraught over not being given his own parish, goes into a deep depression and becomes a very heavy drinker. His sister, "the sister", calls Colonel Potter in Missouri to bring Mulcahy's problem to his attention, and Potter arranges for Mulcahy to undergo an initial experimental procedure in St. Louis to replace most of the damaged tissue in his left eardrum. Days later, with Mulcahy's hearing well on the way to being fully restored, he decides to join Potter and Klinger and becomes the resident chaplain at "General General".