Father Robert Lee Napier passed into eternal life on Tuesday, May 19, after suffering from a long and chronic illness. He was 67. It was the very day he would have celebrated his 25th anniversary to the priesthood.
Father Napier is survived by his parents, Howard and Margaret Napier of Brewster, Ohio; his brother James and his wife Michelle of Westlake Village, Calif., and their children Christian and Lindsay; his sister Kathleen Napier-Levine and her husband Steve of Ooltewah, Tenn., and their children Tyler and C.J.
He was born on Oct. 2, 1947 and grew up on a farm outside of Brewster, Ohio. He attended Kent State University and the University of Akron earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He later attended St. Meinrad College in Indiana and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., where he received a master’s of divinity degree.
Prior to becoming a Catholic priest, Father Napier worked for Allegheny Airlines – now U.S. Airlines – and served on the personal staff of President Jimmy Carter during his administration. He eventually came to Interlachen as a partner in an antique business and he worked for the Putnam County School Board.
It was in Interlachen that Father Bob said he had one of those unexplainable mystical experiences that initiated a series of changes in his life.
“I walked into a Catholic Church,” he recounts, “and found that Mass was going on.” Father Bob, a Methodist, had often had thoughts of becoming a minister but from that point he found himself drawn to the Catholic faith and before the year was up he had joined the Catholic Church.
Several years later in 1983, after becoming involved in lay ministry at St. Monica Parish in Palatka, Father Bob made a Cursillo, an intense weekend retreat experience. While praying in the chapel, he recognized in himself a very strong desire to become a priest. The following fall he entered the seminary.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John J. Snyder on May 19, 1990. Since his ordination, he served as a parochial vicar at Holy Faith Parish, Gainesville (1990-1992), St. Paul Parish, Jacksonville Beach (1992-1998), St. Michael Parish, Fernandina Beach (1998-2002) and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Interlachen from 2002 until he retired in 2014.
Father Bob, a fourth-degree Knight, was also Chaplain to the Knights of Columbus Council #8917 and the Knights of Columbus Assembly #2760. He also served as a diocesan Spiritual Advisor for Cursillo.
Father Bob touched the lives of many, especially his parishioners in Interlachen. He is credited with establishing a ministry for the Hispanic Catholic community in Interlachen where he said Mass in Spanish for them on a regular basis.
“I look at life as a journey,” he said in an article after his ordination in 1990. “Sometimes we recognize Christ along the way, sometimes we don’t. It’s not an easy road and for people who don’t have Jesus Christ in their lives, I don’t know how they do it.”
Deacon Fred Brown, who served closely with Father Bob at St. John the Evangelist Parish, said he was a very spiritual man and a wonderful mentor. “He had a deep love for the Lord,” said Deacon Fred. “He once told me [as a deacon] if you are going to err – always err on the side of mercy.”
Funeral Arrangements are as follows:
Tuesday, May 26, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Prayer service at 7 p.m.
Holy Faith Catholic Church, 747 NW 43rd Street, Gainesville, FL 32607
Father John Phillips, V.F. will preside
Wednesday, May 27, at 11 a.m.
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 106 N. Manitoba, Interlachen, FL 32148-0207
Bishop Felipe J. Estévez will be the celebrant
Interment will follow the funeral Mass at Pineview Cemetery, 1212 Highway 20 West, Interlachen, Fla. 32148.
A reception will be held at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.