Father Gill Returns to "Mad Men"

Last night on AMC’s hit drama,“Mad Men,” Father Gill, the young Jesuit priest who has parked himself at the local parish, returned for what is supposed to be the second part in a three-part story “arc.”

And you had to feel a little sorry for his parishioners.

First off, the young curate tried to wheedle Peggy--one of the show’s main characters, and an up-and-comer at an ad agency--into using her marketing skills to help him “promote” a C.Y.O. dance. (Those 1960s teens are getting less interested in things Catholic.  Boy, wait till the 70s.)  The very busy Peggy politely demurs, but Father presses her relentlessly (mercilessly?) into doing it “pro bono” for the church.  The always-clever Peggy comes up with a smart idea that is subsequently shot down at a rectory meeting by two stodgy church ladies; when she looks to Father for some support, he defers to the two women and asks Peggy to rethink her “strategy.”

This is where the 1960s are different that the 2000s.  Today if a parish pressed you to do something against your wishes, and you finally did it even though you were tremendously busy, and your work was summarily rejected, and you were asked to do it again, the normal response of many Catholics to Father would be “See you!”

Later on, Father Gill, resplendent in his blacks, strides into Peggy’s office, at Sterling Cooper.  (Apparently the curate’s busy schedule allows him time to make random visits to Manhattan.) When one of the ad execs catches sight of his Roman collar and says, “Did we get the Miracle Whip account?”  Yes, I thought, and maybe you’ll get Sky Chief, too.

After the by-now annoyed Peggy makes copies on the spiffy new Xerox machine for Father Gill, he begins to press her about a spiritual sore point.  As MM fans know, Peggy gave birth to a child for whom her sister now cares.  A few weeks ago the sister mentioned this in confession, and the priest seemed to indicate, pretty clearly, to Peggy that he knew what was going on—a definite no-no, confession-wise.  Last night he asked her why she wasn’t receiving Communion.  Would she like to talk about it?  No, said Peggy.  Are you sure?  Said Father.  No, said Peggy.  And so on.

At the end of the show, in his bedroom in the rectory, he takes off his Roman collar and his French cuffed-shirt, takes out a guitar and starts to sing a little folk song, presumably to say something about the lonely lives that the characters are leading.

To recap: Father Gill badgers his parishioner into doing something she doesn’t want to do and says repeatedly she’s too busy to do.  When she does it, he allows two women who know less about the situation to make decisions without sticking up for her.  He interrupts her workday so that she can do some copying for him.  He badgers her into talking about something he heard in the confessional and isn’t supposed to talk about anyway, even when she says she doesn’t want to talk about it.

In the last episode I thought he needed a course in canon law.  This time I think he needs a course in pastoral counseling.

James Martin, SJ


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10 years ago
To Sally: Good point(s)! I agree that we may have to give the fictional Father Gill the benefit of the doubt, as St. Ignatius would want us to do, but I also question what seemed to me his somewhat uncomfortable use of material he had heard in the confessional. Also, it may be better for him to wait until Peggy is ready. But again, we'll see where it leads. Perhaps his methods will bear fruit. On the other hand, I give the writers credit for a fine explanation of "communion" in prime time. To MM: Glad you liked the book!
10 years ago
Dear Father Jim, I have not seen this television program, nor had I ever been to this website before. I linked to it from The Deacon's Bench after a friend sent me the CatholicVote.com video link. I am sure that your opinion is spot on! Anyway, I'm writing to tell you that I am in Houston, where we just rode out Hurricane Ike. In the aftermath of the storm, (thank God,we had no serious damage) as we had nothing to do--no electricity--but wait, I calmed myself by reading your book, My Life with the Saints. Thanks for the blessing of such a charming and inspirational book! It really helped me keep my perspective and sense of humor. Blessings! MM
10 years ago
I have to say that I thought that the interaction with Peggy was more sympathetic than your take suggests. I think he was trying to make that point that he cared about her spiritual well-being. His points were all about the limitless mercy of God, and that Peggy shouldn't be afraid to approach God for forgiveness. In fact I thought it was clear that Peggy was very touched by his final statement, questioning whether Peggy for some reason thought she was unworthy of God's love. She looked like she was on the verge of opening up to the priest and that it would be a relief for her to do so, but at the last minute she draws back. Frankly, I think there's something to be said for a priest trying to reach out to someone who is obviously troubled (isolated, nervous, withdrawn from the community, going to mass but failing to go to communion). Failing to ask about such things could be interpreted as simple indifference. I thought it was clear that he was acting out of sincere concern and the wish to be helpful rather than out of some wrongful sense of butting in where he didn't belong or seeking to overpower Peggy. Nor do I think he was being insensitive in the way he sought out her volunteer help - in fact, his encouragement to get involved with the parish through a volunteer job could be seen as another way of trying to get Peggy to feel confident that the Church wanted her to be a part of the community. In sum, I think it's too soon to judge whether the priest is being insensitive or not. Perhaps my interpretation will prove wrong in the long run, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. I particularly think that his very clear statements about the infinite mercy and love of God were very good, and not necessarily in step with the way Hollywood often portrays the Church. I also thought it was nice that when Peggy rebuked him for failing to stand up for her, he agreed that he was in the wrong and said he'd try to do better.
10 years ago
I hate it when the media portrays the Church incorrectly. True, there are bad Catholics, but this is the same media that believes there are seventy-two virgins in the Koran. (It's actually a mistranslation) I want to see a TV show that portrays good obedient Priests, lay faithful who don't use the sacraments as times to chat but to celebrate the sacraments piously, and religous men and women who keep faithful to their vocation and vows. The media should be enticing us to love and truth, not to vice and confusion. Where is the Production Code of 1930 when you need it?
10 years ago
I hate to tell/remind everyone... but... there WERE priests just like Father Gill around in the 1960s... who showed sort of cross-generational characteristics... being pastoral 45 years ago was about walking the parish beat (outreach), knowing your the families in your parish (a far cry from today) and being interwoven in many of the domestic elements within those families as councillor-confident yet usually pushing the orthadoxy of the faith... that's the way it was...


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