An exceptionally warm, compassionate and down-to-earth man with a ready sense of humour, Cardinal Napier is loved and respected by everyone who comes into contact with him.
Born in the small midlands town of Matatliele on 8 March 1941, Wilfrid Fox Napier is one of seven children – five boys and two girls, who remain close to this day.
He attended the Ixopo Catholic School and his teacher, Sister Annuncia, says she doesn’t remember him ever doing anything wrong. But he confesses that he came close to being expelled for disrespect when he once innocently mimicked Sister’s strong German accent.
At the end of his matric year he joked that he was ‘off to Ireland to pick potatoes’. Six months later, he entered the Franciscan Novice House in Killarney. After his noviciate, he spent three years at university in Galway acquiring a BA degree with Latin and English as his majors. To this day, he retains fond memories of Ireland and the many wonderful people he met there.
Young, Wilfrid Fox Napier enjoyed fishing
Wilfrid Napier returned to South Africa where he was ordained priest on 25 July 1970 and spent the next years in the Parish of Lusikisiki, until being ordained Bishop of Kokstad in 1981.
President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 1987 to 1994, he was deeply involved in mediation and negotiation during this tubulent time in South Africa’s history, and was present at the signing of the Peace Accord in September 1991. He also served on the Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and participated in two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops.
He was appointed Archbishop of Durban on 22 June 1992 and raised to Cardinal by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II on 21 February 2001.
In 2005, Cardinal Napier was one of 117 cardinals entrusted with the task of electing the new Pope, Benedict XVI. In 2006, he celebrated 25 years of service to the Catholic Church at a special jubilee Mass in Durban.