'I believe in miracles' - comic turned priest tells his inspiring story
Frankie Mulgrew, the son of comedian and Lancashire Post columnist, followed in his father's footsteps in comedy - until a battle with depression ultimately led to him becoming a priest.Father Mulgrew tells AASMA DAY his inspiring story and why he believes in physical and spiritual miracles.
There’s not many Catholic priests that can claim to have appeared on stage dressed as a 6ft dancing bumblebee - but Father Frankie Mulgrew is one of them.
Fr Frankie is the son of comedian Jimmy Cricket and from a young age, he was captivated by a love of the stage and entertainment and followed in his dad’s footsteps by becoming a stand-up comedian himself known as Frankie Doodle.
However, a battle with depression around the age of 18 led the comic on the journey to become a priest after realising the healing power of the Catholic religion.
Fr Mulgrew, now 41, explains: “From a young age, I was inspired by my dad and the dream was always to follow in his footsteps.
“From a tiny age, I remember my dad telling jokes and people falling about laughing, but I didn’t always understand the jokes.
“I can recall my dad getting out a fish and pretending to play it and then saying: ‘It’s a tuna fish.”
“When I grew a bit older, I suddenly understood the joke and thought it was hilarious.
“You grew into his jokes.
“I would see people watching my dad and crying with laughter and happiness and I thought: ‘That’s what I want to do.’
Fr Frankie, who lived with his family in Rochdale and has one brother and two sisters, began stints on stage from a young age as when he was nine and his brother was 11, they did a double act called “Frank and Ernest” singing and doing routines taught to them by their famous dad.
Fr Frankie recalls: “That gave me the entertainment bug and during the school holidays, my dad would take me on the road with him and I would get the chance to go backstage and see how it all worked and that was really exciting.”
Fr Frankie, who used to drive Peter Kay to gigs, began his own comedy career by doing open mic spots at comedy clubs while still going on the road with his dad and supporting him on stage - such as by dressing up as a dancing bumble bee.
Gradually, he began doing more stand-up comedy gigs by himself and he performed in the pantomime Aladdin in Richmond playing the part of Wishy Washy alongside Patsy Kensit and Christopher Biggins.
Fr Frankie says: “I was getting offers for children’s television for ‘Frankie Doodle’ - but it was around this time I was getting the calling that God wanted me to be a priest.”
Despite having a great and supportive family, Fr Frankie began suffering from depression which manifested as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Fr Frankie says: “I struggled with depression from about the age of 18 and kept feeling that something was amiss.
“I did try and hide a lot of my depression from my family but I think it is important that people talk about it.
“My family saw parts of it but I hid a lot of how I was feeling from them.
“We now say that my depression was so bad that I used to watch Eastenders to cheer myself up!
“Although I can make light of it now, it was a very difficult time.”
Divine inspiration came for Fr Frankie after talking to a Catholic priest about his depression and the way he was feeling and he recommended he try going to confession.
Fr Frankie remembers: “I went to confession and I just felt this incredible peace.
“The only way I can describe it is like a supernatural peace and I felt God’s love.
“It was like an internal miracle and I felt I experienced the joy of God.”
After discovering the power of religion, Fr Frankie says little by little, he felt himself heal as he went to confession and mass regularly.
He says: “I felt supernatural peace and love and knew I was loved by a much greater force which was God.
“I found my solace from depression in the Catholic Church.”
Fr Frankie says depression can be rife among comedians and those in the entertainment industry. He explains: “There is this thing with stand-up that there is a great buzz when people are on stage and when they come off, normal life is not like that.
“I was very lucky that my dad saw stand-up as a job he loved but then he came back home and was very grounded.
“I was conscious of people who I crossed paths with in the industry who had everything they felt should make them happy - the fame, the status, the wealth - but they were looking for something in their life that was lacking.
“For me, that peace and joy came from God.”
At the age of 28, Fr Frankie was inspired after feeling that God was telling him to become a priest and he applied for seminary and went away for seven years to become a priest.
Chuckling, Fr Frankie remembers: “My brother used to manage me and my dad for our comedy and a BBC producer rang him up telling him they wanted to work with ‘Frankie Doodle’.
“Without thinking, my brother told him that was not possible as I was going away for a long time.
“When I spoke to the BBC producer some years later, he told me he had thought that my brother could only mean one of two things - that I was going to prison or that I was becoming a priest!”
Fr Frankie still dabbles in comedy now and again when he is asked to do after dinner talks about his life as a priest.
He says: “Even doing homilies in mass, if I see opportunities for humour or a joke or anecdote, I will include it - but it is never forced in.”
Fr Frankie was living in Blackburn where he was curate to Holy Family and Our Lady of Perpetual Succour parishes and was also working as a chaplain at Royal Blackburn Hospital.
However, he is currently in America doing youth ministry training and when he returns, he will join St James on Pendleton Way, Salford, as well as becoming a chaplain at Salford University.
Fr Frankie was a chaplain at Royal Blackburn Hospital for three years until he left a few months ago.
During his time at the hospital trust, Fr Frankie witnessed a number of miracles and this began his inspiration to compile and edit a book called: “Miracles R Us” featuring the stories of numerous contributors.
The book looks at whether miracles really happen in the 21st century just as there were during the life of Jesus.
Contributors including a former gangster, an ex-top model and an Olympic speed-skating nun and two cardinals set about answering the question about miracles and reveal how God works supernatural miracles in our day and age.
Fr Frankie himself saw miraculous happenings through the power of prayer during his years working as a chaplain at Royal Blackburn Hospital.
He recalls: “There was one lady who had suffered a stroke and her right hand side was affected and she could not move her hand or arm.
“I found out she was Catholic but had not been to church for a number of years and I invited her to confession knowing what a great experience she could have after the effect it had on my own life.
“Afterwards, I invited her to receive the anointing of the sick which is a special prayer that we have in the Catholic Church.
“God can bring great healing through a prayer either physically or spiritually.
“Part of the prayer is that you anoint someone’s head and the palms of their hands with oil.
“I went to do that and her right hand side was limp with her hand all curled up.
“I anointed her head and then her palms. As I anointed her right hand, she opened her hand up and began moving her arm.
“It was a miracle.”
On another occasion, Fr Frankie was approached by a man at an event in Clitheroe asking: “Do you remember me?”
Fr Frankie says: “I asked this man to remind me and he revealed he had been rushed into Royal Blackburn Hospital the previous year and the doctors said he had too many internal complications and told his family to say their goodbyes to him.
“His family said they needed to get a Catholic priest to say his final prayers and that day, it happened to be me at the hospital who was called out to him.
“I gave him the anointing of the sick and he said within weeks, he had made a recovery and got out of bed and gone back home to Clitheroe.
“Catholic priests will tell you that with the anointing of the sick and hospital ministry, you do see a lot of miracles.
“There are physical miracles and there are also spiritual miracles.
“A spiritual miracle is when a miracle happens in someone’s heart and soul and in your innermost being like what happened with me.
“I realised that if these things happened for me, they can happen for other people too.”
In the book Miracles R Us, contributors such as John Pridmore, Leah Darrow, Sister Catherine Holum, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Cardinal Luis Tagle share their real life stories of spiritual and physical miracles.
Along with other well known priests, religious and Catholic speakers, they tell of the life changing miracles of the soul and physical healings beyond current medical explanation which happen today in the Catholic Church.
Among the accounts, Sr Briege McKenna shares the story of a nine-year-old boy with epilepsy who was cured through a healing service while Fr Timothy Radcliffe recounts the tale of a man who fell from the seventh floor of an apartment block who was healed through the prayer of the anointing of the sick.
Fr Frankie says: “Different people in the book share their stories about how God impacted their life of other people’s lives.
“Miracles do happen and this book explores some fascinating real life stories.”
• Miracles R Us is available from Amazon and from St Paul’s Publishing at www.stpauls.org.uk. All authorship profits will go to the children’s charity Mary’s Meals.