By the time M*A*S*H ended in 1983, Father John Patrick Francis Mulcahy was arguably America’s best-known Roman Catholic priest. Over the eleven years William Christopher spent with the 4077th, his character turned from a caricature into an actual person. The character of Father Mulcahy shifted away from being a series of cliches and developed a real depth and believability.
Part of that credit belongs to the writers, while another big reason for Mulcahy’s authenticity is the work William Christopher continued to put into the character. Around the show’s fourth season, when Father Mulcahy became a more integral part of M*A*S*H, the actor began consulting an informal sounding board of clerical experts. There was a genuine effort on the part of William Christopher to elevate his role from punchline to a real, breathing entity.
“In my talks with priests, I wasn’t looking for anything particular; I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for,” Christopher told The Charlotte News in 1983. “I knew I wanted to be comfortable with him… I wanted the right wording for a line or the philosophy or thinking that might lie behind his actions.”
It should follow then, that such a detailed, lifelike character would have a full life. As such, when M*A*S*H came to an end, Father Mulcahy was one of three characters who were revisited in the sequel series AfterM*A*S*H. In it, the remnants of the 4077th are reintegrated back into American society, wherein each faces a new set of conflicts. No, they’re not under any enemy fire, but life was nonetheless still dramatic and compelling enough for television.
“He, of course, comes back from Korea and returns to Philadelphia, and he has not found it easy to get started again,” said Christopher of Father Mulcahy. “He comes back and runs into some problems, probably because of what he’s been through. There are some subjects there that we will be taking a look at. Reactions to the war, the problems of readjustment, and, of course, Mulcahy has this hearing problem now. All of that doesn’t make life very easy for him.”
Mulcahy is reunited with Harry Morgan’s Col. Potter and Jamie Farr’s Cpl. Klinger in a VA hospital. Potter hears of Father Mulcahy’s ongoing health issues and tries to help out. Mulcahy lost his hearing as a result of an explosion in the final episode of M*A*S*H.
AfterM*A*S*H put Mulcahy “in a much more traditional religious situation,” according to Christopher.
“A hospital chaplain has a more natural, extended relationship with patients than Mulcahy had in Korea,” said Christopher. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how he handles the new situations he faces. I think he’ll do OK.”