Cardinal Wilfrid Napier
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Meet Cardinal Wilfrid Napier

An exceptionally warm, compassionate and down-to-earth man with a ready sense of humour, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier is loved and respected by everyone who meets him.

Born in the small midlands town of Matatiele on 8 March 1941, Napier is one of seven children – five boys and two girls, who remain close to this day.

Early education

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.


Wilfrid Napier returned to South Africa where he was ordained priest on 25 July 1970 and spent the next two years in the Parish of Lusikisiki, until being ordained Bishop of Kokstad in 1981.

President of the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s 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 Snyod 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.

Papal Elections

In 2005, Cardinal Napier was one of 117 cardinals entrusted with the task of electing the new Pope, Benedict XVI. He returned to conclave again in March 2013 when Benedict resigned, and Francis 1 was elected. The Holy Father nominated Napier as a member of the Council for the Economy, ad Quinquennium (a period of five years) as determined by the Apostolic Letter Fidelis dispensator et prudens in the form of the Motu proprio, art.2.

Although his duty to Rome often takes him away from home, Cardinal Napier remains concerned about his people in South Africa, especially those who are poor, marginalised or victims of injustice.