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The First Construction Stage

By 1882, St. Kilian's pro-Cathedral was in a state of poor repair, and the question of replacing it with a building more in keeping with the importance of Bendigo as a city was being discussed. The matter continued to be considered until June, 1887 when Bishop Reville announced that a new St. Kilian's church would be built, but that a cathedral-style building would not be attempted, as funds from the Backhaus estate would not be available to pay for it for another fifteen years. His concern about the financial difficulties associated with such a major project is indicated in the pessimistic tone of his comment that "whoever was alive then could take that work in hand"! However, despite this, a lease on the current Wattle Street site - it was part of the Backhaus estate - had actually been taken out in 1886. The lease was for 500 years at a yearly rental of one shilling!

In 1895, Bishop Crane called for competitive designs for a cathedral from several architects. A Gothic design submitted by the Melbourne firm Reed Smart and Tappin was the one selected. Unfortunately, no details of other designs have survived. The city council agreed to permanently reserve the block of land on the corner of Wattle and High Streets so that there was an appropriate setting. It was decided that it would only be possible to build the nave and the side aisles at this stage, although foundations would be laid for the entire building. Finance for the project was provided in the form of a loan of £30,000 from Mr. George Lansell. The interest rate was six per cent, but the means were available to repay the debt at the end of 1902.

The formal laying of the foundation stone occurred on Friday, the 25th June 1897 - the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By this time, substantial progress had already been made on parts of the building. It was a cold, rainy day and the ceremony was performed by Bishop Stephen Reville after High Mass at St. Kilian's Pro-Cathedral. Bishop Crane, now blind and feeble, was present at the Mass but was unable to be present at the site for the Cathedral. The weather does not seem to have limited the ceremony to any great degree. There was a thirty-eight piece orchestra and a choir of substantial size, these being located on a covered platform, while some twenty priests, three members of parliament, Mr. George Lansell and Mr. William Tappin (architect) were seated under cover on another platform. The reports also mention about 1,000 citizens being present.

After an overture by the orchestra. Major E.W. Kirby read to Bishop Reville the contents of an elaborately prepared illuminated address from the Catholics of Bendigo. A silver trowel and casket were then presented to the Bishop. The casket, which was placed with the foundation stone, contained a document in Latin outlining the Cathedral beginnings, a gold medal commemorating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, a silver locket, some medals associated with the various sodalities and a special copy of the Catholic magazine Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart printed in gold ink and containing a sketch of the Cathedral and photographs of Drs. Crane, Reville and Backhaus. The foundation stone was laid at the Short Street end of the building near the position where the altar would be in the completed Cathedral. After various prayers, the Bishop declared the stone to be "well and faithfully laid".

Just over four years later, on Saturday, the 28th September 1901, Bishop Reville blessed the new building and the next day it was formally opened by Cardinal Moran, Archbishop of Sydney and the senior Catholic bishop in Australia. The events associated with the opening received extensive coverage in the press. These included the arrival of the Cardinal and his entourage of five bishops at the railway station on Saturday, the High Mass on Sunday morning, the banquet which followed, and the evening devotions.

The Intervening Years

After the opening Bishop Reville decided that there were needs more pressing than completing the Cathedral. Churches, convents and schools had to be built throughout the diocese and charitable works required support. For over fifty years, the only structural work undertaken was the completion of the front lantern towers in 1908 and the front granite fence in 1934. Internally, a large pipe organ, built by Bishop and Son of London, was installed late in 1905.

On Bishop Reville's death in 1916, Bishop John McCarthy became the third Bishop of Sandhurst. Bishop McCarthy was succeeded by Bishop Bernard Stewart as fourth bishop in 1950.

The Golden Jubilee of the opening of the Cathedral was marked very simply with Bishop Stewart offering the 11 am Mass on Sunday, the 30th September 1951, after which the Forty Hours devotions - a popular practice at the time - commenced. A Mass for school children of the district was held a few days later.

The Second Construction Stage

In 1953, Bishop Stewart decided to complete the Cathedral. Looking back on this decision of nearly fifty years ago, it is surprising that it did not cause some controversy at the time. Expenditure of some £300,000 was proposed on the project, at a time when the after-effects of wartime problems were still very evident in daily life and there were great demands for funding Catholic schools and parishes. However, there is no sign of any controversy in the press reports of the time but rather a degree of enthusiasm.

In February 1954, the Apostolic Delegate to Australasia, Archbishop Carboni visited Bendigo to offer Mass for the success of the project which was intended to honour, in a special way, the Australian and American dead of the World Wars. At the civic reception he was given, congratulatory messages were received from figures as diverse as the Victorian Governor and Premier, the Pope, the Mayor of the City, the Irish Prime Minister, the United States Consul-General, Sir George Lansell and Australian Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs.

The formal laying of a commemorative stone to mark the second construction stage did not occur until the 16th October 1955, when Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney officiated at the function which was attended by 6,000 people. There was an interesting connection with the 1897 ceremony when Mr. C.M. Dawe, who had sealed memorabilia in a silver casket placed with the original foundation stone, resealed it with some additional items for this ceremony. The reports add that the well-known Austrian vocal group The Trapp Family sang at the Mass commemorating the occasion

When the Cathedral was completed in 1977, Bishop Stewart acknowledged that the whole project "would hardly have got off the ground" without the involvement of Mr. Frank Hill and Mr. Leo Donegan. Mr. Hill, a trustee of the Backhaus Estate, provided the Financial planning, while Mr. Donegan, who was a building supervisor for the State Public Works Department, provided practical knowledge of the way building should be approached.

Bates Smart and McCutcheon - successors of the original firm - were appointed architects for the project. The plans had been retained in the archives and were followed with a few modifications. At the start, the supply of building materials was subject to government control and the records show that the Buildings Procurement Directorate approved the release of six tons of cement per month for the project. A quarry near Geelong was reopened and large blocks of sandstone were brought to Bendigo. A crane and stone saw were set up on-site and the stone was sawn, dressed and built in by a team of stonemasons from Britain, Italy and other European countries as well as by some Bendigo tradesmen. The first stage of the work was supervised by Mr. Alois Melichar but his involvement was cut short by his sudden death. Mr. Albert Segafredo, one of the original masons, took over the position in 1960 and saw the project to its completion. The rate of progress was limited by the availability of funds - about £50,000 per annum - and the consequent restriction on the labour force. The extensive work involved in the leadlight windows, plumbing, electrical and other services were all provided by local workers.

The original design included a stone masonry spire. For several reasons, it was necessary to modify this and a steel frame fitted with concrete panels with a veneer finish to match the Mt. Gambier limestone was used. Some innovative engineering and building techniques were employed in this work. Internally, the original floor was removed and replaced by marble to match the floor of the new section. The Cathedral was closed for about eighteen months in 1972/73 to enable integration of the old and new sections. There were also some changes in the positions of the altar and Bishop's Chair to take into account changes in liturgical practice over the years.

The interior of the Cathedral was completed and formally opened by Bishop Stewart in October 1973. One of those present was 97-year old Miss Clara Colgan who was a member of the choir at the opening ceremony in 1901. The tower and spire took a further four years to build. Finally, the Cathedral was consecrated by Archbishop Cahill of Canberra on the 14th May 1977 and formally opened by Cardinal Freeman of Sydney the following day. On this occasion in the life of the Cathedral, the events were televised.

Acknowledgement of Country
The Diocese of Sandhurst recognises the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we live, serve and worship.
We acknowledge the people of the regions of our Diocese.
We respectfully honour and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship and their connections to the land, waters and animals. We pay our respects to their culture, their Elders, past, present and emerging, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and the hops of their peoples.
We express our gratitude in the sharing of this land, our sorrow for the personal, spiritual and cultural costs of that sharing and commit ourselves to actively working alongside First Nations People for healing, reconciliation and justice.