The first Mass in the Ballarat area was celebrated by Fr. Patrick Dunne, the parish priest of Coburg, in 1851. It was celebrated in a tent pitched by Fr. Dunne somewhere near the present Brown Hill Hotel. The parish of Ballarat was established in 1853 when Fr. Matthew Downing was appointed first resident pastor.
In 1853 he selected the two acre site for the church, which was granted under a Crown Grant in 1855. The style of the Church is early Gothic from the era of Edward the 1st in the 13th Century.
On February 7th, 1858, Bishop James Alipius Goold OSA laid the foundation stone for the church, which commenced being used on a regular basis for Mass in 1863.
The official opening of the church was in 1871 and when the Diocese of Ballarat was formed in 1874, the first Bishop, Dr Michael O'Connor chose it for the Cathedral. The diocese extends to Swan Hill, Robinvale and Mildura in the north along the river Murray, across to the South Australian border down to Portland, Warrnambool and Apollo Bay in the south to the Southern Ocean. The Sunraysia, Mallee, Wimmera, Grampians, Western District and Central Goldfields areas are all included in the Ballarat Diocese.
When St Patrick's Cathedral, Ballarat was finally consecrated in 1891 by Cardinal Moran of Sydney, it was the first Catholic Cathedral consecrated in the Australian Colonies, making it today Australia's oldest consecrated Cathedral.
In 1887, a High Altar, which can be seen still today, and Stations of the Cross were purchased from Rome. The altar is of Carrara marble inlaid with precious stones including Antico Rossi, Lapis Lazuli and antique marbles. The tiles of the Sanctuary and side chapels are from Austria and those in the nave from Minton's England. The first organ installed in 1867, was replaced with the Fincham in 1930.
The stained glass windows were introduced in 1883, the first being that in the Sanctuary. Following this were the Lady Chapel window and Blessed Sacrament Chapel window. These three windows were made in Germany and a slight variation in colour to the other windows can be noticed. They were installed in May 1890. The remaining windows were gradually added to, until the final one in 1910. Of these, the first was presented by the Loreto Sisters representing St Brigid, Abbess of Kildare (note her Crozier, the traditional mark of a Bishop) given in memory of Bishop O’Connor. On the opposite side of the narthex is St Patrick's window, donated by the third Bishop, Bishop Higgins (note the crozier piercing Aengus through the foot). Both these windows have the Holy Spirit uppermost.
The windows on the south side depict the parables; the Workers on the Vineyard, the Good Samaritan, the Ten Maidens, the Prodigal Son, the Weeds and the Wheat. The windows in the south transept are of the burial of Jesus and the Resurrection.
The windows on the north side depict miracles; the Son of widow of Nain restored to life, Cure of the man born blind, Cure of the woman with a haemorrhage, the ten lepers, the miracle of the loaves and fish, the Gerasene demoniac, the epileptic demoniac, the daughter of the Canaanite woman healed. In the north transept the windows depict the Annunciation and the visit of the Magi (Epiphany). The final window on the north side near the front entrance to the Cathedral is of St Patrick, Missionary & Bishop (385 0 432), patron of the Cathedral Parish and the Diocese of Ballarat. His feast day is celebrated on March 17th.
An extensive renovation and liturgical re-ordering of the Cathedral took place in 1999. Highlights of this were the installation of a new altar, tabernacle and baptismal space. Also of note was the discovery of the original paint colours around the sanctuary, which have been conserved in the renovation. The new altar, given by the Archdiocese of Melbourne, was consecrated by Archbishop George Pell on April 26th, 2000.