In 1951 St Francis Xavier's church was designated as the Cathedral for the new Diocese.
History in brief
By 1836 the Catholics of Wollongong had built a wooden chapel with seating for 250 people. The first Catholic school was opened in 1838. The pioneer priest Father John Rigney decided to build a larger permanent church in 1839.
The "Australian Catholic Directory" of 1841 states that "the church of St Francis Xavier will be a handsome stone building in the pure Gothic style, sustained with much ornament and will be sufficiently large to contain 1,500 persons. Its estimated expense is 2,000 pounds". The building was eventually furnished in the Gothic style and old photographs show a splendid Gothic interior. Unfortunately the interior has been greatly altered over the years and apart from the beautiful stained glass window behind the sanctuary and the ceiling over the nave, little exists of the original interior. Some sanctuary furnishings including the stone altar are of Gothic Revival style, reproductions of Early English medieval church furniture from the thirteenth century. The tracery pattern to the sanctuary window is a typical thirteenth century "Geometrical" design. When meditating on the stained glass sancturary window we might remember that stained glass is basically a Christian art. It had not existed until the Christian era, and has evolved as an integral element in the Christian church.
The exterior of the Cathedral displays many elements of the Early English Gothic style. with projected buttresses, tall narrow windows, steeply pitched roof and pinnacled parapet to the front of the building. The ceiling to the central nave with its decorative timber trusses is another early Gothic detail. It is interesting to note from the Cathedral that buttresses are increased in width as they approach the ground to counteract overturning forces on the wall due to the thrust of the roof, leaving mainly direct vertical loads on the walls. Pinnacles on the elevations were often used (as at the front of the Cathedral). As well as being decorative features these were also used to add to the vertical weight, helping to stabilize the walls against the roof thrust.
St Francis Xavier's (1840 - 1849) is the oldest church of any denomination in the Illawarra region. The church has been extended and altered many times although often in a non-aesthetical manner.
The first addition was opened on the 6th May, 1906. The nave was lengthened by 7.6m, the original shingle roofwas replaced by slate. Two galleries, one on each side of the sanctuary were added. In 1933 much damage was done to the interior with the church being widened.
In 1951 St Francis Xavier's church was designated as the Cathedral for the new Diocese. Alterations were made in 1960, the 1970s and in 1985. A Marian chapel was created from an old confessional. Some of the aesthetical damage done to the church with the widening of the interior was softened with the cladding of the square concrete columns; arches were added between these columns to unify the space. The Stations of the Cross were reorganised, carpet laid and the interior painted in tones selected to highlight the stained glass window. Concrete slabs that had been laid abutting the exterior walls were removed and gardens created to allow ventillation under the Cathedral floor to help overcome rising dampness. (Rising damp is caused in many buildings of this age as the layer of Welsh slate used as a damp proof course gradually breaks down allowing water to rise up in the exterior walls.) Paved areas and seating were created to provide a meeting place after Mass for parishioners.
In April - May 2009 a program of restoration continued with the replacement of the roof of the Cathedral with slate imported from Wales. During this time the Cathedral was closed.