Following the discovery of gold in Bendigo late in 1851 and with a large denomination of Cornish and Irish diggers it was not surprising that on Sunday May 2nd, 1852, the first Catholic mass on what was then a fledgling goldfield, was conducted by Rev Dr Henry Backhaus in a canvas tent. The tent had a flag pole out the front to signal when Mass was about to commence.
Slab and Canvas Church:
It was obvious that a simple tent was never going to meet the needs of a growing congregation so, one year later, a larger building replaced the 1st St Kilians. This new church was a slab and canvas structure assembled in 1853 by Dr Backhaus and some energetic and devoted members of the congregation in one afternoon. But the canvas roof leaked in times of rain, so Bishop Goold ordered a new church be built.
The First Stone Church:
In May 1856, construction of a stone church commenced. Little were its creators and would-be beneficiaries to know, but in less than 5 months, the builder was sacked for shoddy workmanship and a new contractor signed on.
Bishop Goold laid the foundation stone for the new church on January 25,1857. On December 6 of the same year he proudly blessed and opened St Kilian's Church. Built of Sandstone and topped by a slate roof, the church was a grand site with its 22 buttresses and four entrances.
However, only 30 years later, the building was condemned as the walls were cracking and crumbling.
The current Church:
In late 1887, the St Kilians that we know so well today emerged. Designed by W.C.Vahland and built of oregon and hardwood, it is one of the largest weatherboard churches in the world. The new St Kilian’s was opened by Bishop Crane in July 1888 and was thereafter known as the Pro Cathedral of St Kilian, until the opening of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in 1901, when it reverted to a Parish Church.
Refurbishment work was completed in 1982 and major restorations in 1998. In 2002 Bishop Joseph Grech celebrated mass to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the church.