Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier OFM, the third son of Tom and Mary Napier, was born in Matatiele on 8 March 1941. He received his primary education at the Holy Cross Convent in Matatiele. On completion of his high school studies at Little Flower School Ixopo, he went to Ireland in August 1960 to enter the Franciscan Novice House in Killarney, marking the start of a ten year journey into the Priesthood. After his Noviciate he spent three years in Galway acquiring a BA degree at the University there, with Latin and English as his majors.
He then proceeded to Louvain to study Philosophy and Theology at the Catholic University. After six years he emerged with a Baccalaureate in Philosophy and Theology and a Masters in Theology. Napier returned to South Africa to be ordained a priest in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Kokstad on 25 July 1970.
After learning isiXhosa at the Lumko Missionary Institute, he spent two and a half years as Assistant Priest in St Anthony’s Parish, Lusikisiki and a further five years as Parish Priest of St Francis Parish in Ntabankulu.
In 1978 he was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Kokstad and was ordained Bishop of Kokstad on 28 February 1981.
During Napier’s term as President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (from 1987-1994) turbulence and change marked the South African political scene and together with National and Provincial Church leaders, Napier was deeply involved in mediation and negotiations work. He represented the Catholic Church at the signing of the Peace Accord in September 1991 and in the Patriotic Front meeting in November 1991.
He was appointed Archbishop of Durban on 22 June 1992. In 1995 he received the honorary degree of LLD from the National University of Ireland and in July 1998 Pope John Paul II appointed him a consultor to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
On 21st February 2001 he was raised to Cardinal by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. On 4th February 2007 he was appointed to the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Questions of the Apostolic See.
- Apostolic Administrator of Kokstad (1978-80)
- Bishop of Kokstad (1980–92)
- President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (1987-93; 2000-08)
- President of Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (1988-94; 2003-06)
- Apostolic Administrator of Umzimkulu (1994-2008)