Cardinal Justin Rigali was born in Los Angeles on April 19, 1935, one of seven children born to Henry Alphonsus Rigali and Frances Irene White. He attended Catholic schools in Los Angeles and studied in the archdiocesan seminaries at Los Angeles College, Our Lady Queen of Angels Seminary in San Fernando and St. John’s College and St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California. He was ordained a priest by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre in the Cathedral of St. Vibiana in Los Angeles on April 25, 1961.
In October 1961, he entered the graduate division of the North American College in Rome and began graduate studies in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He obtained a doctorate in Canon Law from that university in 1964. From 1964 to 1966, he followed the course of studies at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, while serving in the English‑language section of the Secretariat of State of the Vatican.
From September 1966 to February 1970, he served at the Apostolic Nunciature in Madagascar, which also was the Apostolic Delegation for the islands of Mauritius and La Reunión. During this time in July 1967, he was named a Papal Chamberlain (Monsignor) to His Holiness Pope Paul VI.
In February 1970, Monsignor Rigali became the director of the English‑language section of the Vatican Secretariat of State, and the English‑language translator for Pope Paul VI, whom he accompanied to various countries. Monsignor Rigali served as a professor at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome from 1972 to 1973.
During his service at the Vatican Secretariat of State, he also accompanied Pope John Paul II on a number of international pastoral visits, including the Holy Father’s first two major journeys to the United States in 1979 and 1987. The 1979 trip included a visit to Philadelphia. On April 19, 1980 he was named a Prelate of Honor of His Holiness. He became a magistral chaplain in the Knights of Malta on October 25, 1984. On October 13, 1986, he became a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.
On June 8, 1985, he was named President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and Titular Archbishop of Bolsena. Pope John Paul II ordained him to the episcopacy on September 14, 1985 in the Cathedral of Albano.
From 1985 to 1990, in addition to being President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he held a number of positions at the Vatican, serving the Secretariat of State, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. On December 21, 1989, he was named Secretary of the Congregation for Bishops and on January 2, 1990 he became the Secretary of the College of Cardinals. He was a member of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission and served as a consultant to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. During the same time, he was also engaged in pastoral services to a number of parishes and seminaries in Rome.
On January 25, 1994, Pope John Paul II appointed him the eighth Bishop and seventh Archbishop of St. Louis. He was formally installed on March 15, 1994 by His Eminence Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. He received the Pallium from the Holy Father on June 29, 1994. That same year, on November 7, he became a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Cardinal Rigali was elected by the United States bishops as a delegate to the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops of 1997. In January 1999, he hosted the Pastoral Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the only such visit to a single diocese in the United States during the pontificate.
Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Rigali to the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2001, the theme of which was The Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.
On July 15, 2003, Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Rigali as the twelfth Bishop and eighth Archbishop of Philadelphia. He was named a Cardinal on September 28, 2003. On October 7, 2003, he was installed Archbishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Apostolic Nuncio, in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
Cardinal Rigali is the spiritual leader of almost 1.5 million Catholics in the City of Philadelphia and the surrounding counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery. He is also a successor of Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia (1852‑1860) and the first canonized male American saint.
Two weeks after his installation as Archbishop of Philadelphia, he was formally created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the Public Consistory in Saint Peter’s Square on October 21, 2003. He was assigned the Titular Church of Saint Prisca in Rome.
Currently, Cardinal Rigali is the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Aid to the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe. He is a member of the Committee on Divine Worship, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Scripture Translations and is President of the Board of Directors of the Black and Indian Mission Office. He was elected by the United States bishops in 2006 to serve as the national delegate to the Plenary Assembly of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, and in 2005 as a delegate to the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which celebrated the theme The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Rigali a member of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops on September 26, 2007. The Cardinal is also member of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is also a member of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See. The Cardinal is on the Board of Trustees of The Catholic University of America. At the same time he is Chair of the University Seminary Committee and member of the Administrative Committee. He is also on the Board of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. and the Chair of the Iconography Committee. He is a member of the Order of the Knights of Malta and the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. Cardinal Rigali is also a member of the Papal Foundation. On June 5, 2004 he became a Knight of Peter Claver. The Cardinal is also a member of the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.