Wiremu Panapa was born in Ahikiwi, Dargaville, the fourth child of Netana and Mereana (née Maihi) Panapa. He was educated at Maropiu Native School and St Stephen’s School, Parnell. Panapa continued his studies at Te Rau Kahikatea Theological College, Gisborne and studied towards a L.Th. The college closed in 1920 and Panapa attended St John’s Theological College, Auckland and graduated with L.Th. He was a Junior Lecturer at the College, became the first Māori to graduate at the college and was top Greek scholar for New Zealand for three years. Panapa was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church in 1921 and was an assistant Curate in the Coromandel District from In 1923 he was ordained a priest at the Cathedral Church of St Mary’s, Parnell and from 1923-1926 was Assistant Vicar at the Māori Mission District of Te Kuiti. In 1924 he married Agnes Waikeria Anderson. From 1926-1932 he was a Curate at the Māori Mission District of Kaikohe and was appointed Diocesan Māori Missioner in 1930. He was the first Māori Missioner in Auckland from From 1940-1944 he was first Māori Chaplain to the Māori Battalion at Papakura Military
Camp. From 1944-48 he was vicar of Ohinemutu Māori District in the Diocese of Waiapu. Waiapu.
Panapa was a member of the Māori Bible Revision Committee from 1946-52 with Sir Apirana Ngata, Very Rev. John Laughton, Bishop Frederick Bennett, Rev. Te Hihi Kaa, Rev. Eru Te Tuhi, Pei Te Hurinui Jones and William Bird. Panapa later translated the Scripture Union Daily Bible Readings Notes into Māori. From 1948-50 he was Vicar of the Taupo Mission District and in 1951 he became a leading member of the Māori Section of the National Council of Churches. In May 1951 he became a Licensed Interpreter and on 24 August 1951 was consecrated Bishop of Aotearoa in St John’s Cathedral in Napier. As Bishop, Panapa maintained a high level of pastoral care; he travelled the country, blessing new meeting houses and marae, opening conferences, and officiating at tangi and memorial services. In 1952 he was made a life member of the British and Foreign Bible Society in recognition of his contribution to the revision of the Māori Bible. In 1954 he was awarded the CBE at the Royal Investiture in the Wellington Town Hall. In 1954 he led a special committee in developing a policy on race relations. In 1960 he led a petition to Parliament seeking the adoption of a state policy on race relations; this was triggered by the exclusion of Māori from the proposed All Black Tour of South Africa. In 1961 Panapa was involved in the establishment of the Māori Education Foundation and in 1968 retired as Bishop of Aotearoa due to ill-health. He died in Palmerston North 10 June 1970 at Ville Hospital where he was visiting his daughter Faith. Many references to Panapa can be found in Te Ao Hou and The Church Gazette; these are being collated by Panapa’s son W.A. (Bill) Panapa for a paper he is compiling on Bishop Panapa.
- Correspondence from W. A. Panapa, 17 and 20 July 1998.
- Report of Young Māoris Conference, 1939. Horace Belshaw. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland U College, 1939. V.
- "Haere Ki O Koutou Tipuna." Te Ao Hou 70 ([197?]): 2.
- "Impressions of Rev. W. N. Panapa." In "Impressions of Conference." Report of Young Māori Conference, 1939. Horace Belshaw. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland U College, 1939. 42.
- Panapa writes of the Young Māoris Conference of 1939 and notes the impact of the Conference on Auckland University and the wider community, and the challenge directed at the young Māori leaders to assist their people.
- "The Great Book is Ready." Te Ao Hou 2 (1952): 13-17. Rpt. in Bible & Society: A Sesquicentennial History Of The Bible Society In New Zealand. Peter J. Lineham. Wellington, N.Z.: Bible Soc.; Daphne Brasell, 1996. 152.
- Panapa, a member of the Bible Revision Committee, recounts the process of producing a new edition of the Māori Bible after the 1925 edition, spearheaded by Bishop Herbert Williams, was found to contain too many typographical flaws. In seeking to correct these mistakes the British and Foreign Bible Society called together a panel of Māori language scholars including the Very Rev Laughton, Apirana Ngata, and Pei Te Hurinui Jones, who met together in March 1946 and decided to embark on a total revision of the Māori Bible. A series of open forum style meetings were held by the committee in key Māori centres all over the country giving opportunity for the Māori community to contribute to the revision process. By December 1949 the work was completed. Panapa includes various passages from Ngata’s revision of St Matthew’s Gospel.
- "A Message from the Rt. Rev. W.N.Panapa: Te Kuini Raua ko te Iwi Māori: The Queen and the Māori People." Te Ao Hou 6 (1953): 7-8. In Māori and English.
- In preparation for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to New Zealand Panapa writes of the relationship between the Māori people and the Queen. He states that in Māori traditional belief when a woman attains Chieftainship the ‘cycle is complete, and it spells peace and prosperity for her people’ which Panapa deems highly propitious in light of the Queen’s coronation following two world wars. Panapa stresses the importance of her visit to Waitangi where the relationship between Māori and Pakeha was ‘sealed’. Panapa contends that without the introduction of Christianity and the work of the missionaries there would never have been a treaty.
- "The Queen and Māori. Message from Rt Rev W. N. Panapa." Te Ao Hou 8. (1954): 32-34.
- A welcome to Queen Elizabeth in which Bishop Panapa spoke on behalf of Māori people.
- "The Māori Education Foundation." Te Ao Hou 36 (1961): 10.
- Panapa writes a report of the Conference of the Provisional Council of Tribal Executives which was held in June 1961, and notes some of the key areas discussed at the conference: the amendment of the Māori Social and Advancement Act of 1945, the Minister of Māori Affairs, the Hon. Mr Hanan’s proposal for forming a Dominion Council of Māori Tribal Committees, and his concept of a Māori Education Foundation.
- "Māori Education Foundation." Te Ao Hou 41 (1962): 49.
- "Ngata’s Last Message." Te Ao Hou 24 (1958): 56.
- Panapa comments on the famous quotation by Apirana Ngata, ‘E tipu, e rea...’, which was published in Te Ao Hou 22 ((1958): 47). Panapa contends that Ngata wrote it in the Tuhoe dialect and, noting the importance of quoting it in its correct form, he provides a corrected version of the text published by Te Ao Hou.
- "Praying For Adoption By Parliament Of A State Policy On Race Relations Between Pakeha And Māori Within New Zealand." 8 Nov. 1961. Reports of Select Committees (1962) Māori Affairs Committee. No. 21/1960 - Petition of Right Reverend W. N. Panapa and 16 Others. Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives. Vol. 4. (1961). No further details.
- In Introduction. He Toenga Whatiwhatinga: Essays Concerning The Bishopric Of Aotearoa Written In Honour Of The Visit Of The Most Reverend And Right Honourable The Lord Archbishop Of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, M.C. Turangawaewae Marae, Ngaruawahia, New Zealand. April 22-23 1983. Comp. and ed. by The Reverend John Paterson, B.A., L Th (Hons) Secretary to the Bishopric. Rotorua, N.Z.: Bishopric of Aotearoa, 1983. No further details.
- Sermon preached at the Auckland pro-cathedral to the members of the Auckland, N.Z. diocesan synod - June 1929.
- "New Māori Bishop Honoured at Pakipaki Ceremony." Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune 25 Aug. 1951.
- "45th Anniversary of Bishop Panapa’s Ordination as a Priest." Te Ao Hou 55 (1966).
- Bell, Terry. "Bill Panapa Cares..." Te Māori 5.3 (July 1973): 15.
- Henare, Manuka. "Panapa, Wiremu Netana 1898 – 1970." Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007. URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/ 21 Aug. 2008.
- "Haere Ki o Koutou Tipuna." Te Ao Hou 70 (1972): 2