The Cathedral is the largest church in the national capital and the premier church of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. The word Cathedral is derived from the Greek ‘kathedra’, meaning throne or elevated seat. The Cathedral is the church where the Archbishop has his seat, where he presides, teaches and leads worship for the whole Catholic community. St Christopher's was built as the first parish church of Canberra by the first pastor, Father Patrick Haydon, although the beginnings of Catholic life in the district stretch back to 1862, when the Diocese of Goulburn was founded. On 30 January 1927, in the time of Bishop John Barry, there was a national Catholic pilgrimage to Canberra for the laying of the foundation stones of St Christopher’s Church and School by Archbishop Kelly of Sydney and of the Convent by Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne.
From Christmas 1927, the Catholic community of Canberra had begun to assemble for Mass in the hall of the new St. Christopher’s School. On 26 February 1928, there was a second national pilgrimage during which the new St Christopher’s School was blessed and opened. On 27 February 1928, St Christopher’s Parish was established with Father Patrick Haydon appointed first Parish Priest. On 28 January 1928, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan arrived to staff the new school and classes began. The event was attended by then Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce. In1935, the first school principal, Mother Dympna, died. She was commemorated in the marble altar of the church then being planned. It is still the altar of the Cathedral, inscribed with a dedication to Mother Dympna.
1936 – 1939
In 1936, Father Haydon was appointed Dean of Canberra, and it is to him that St Christopher’s owes its existence. Following the Depression, Father Haydon decided to build a church for Canberra, and the foundation stone was laid on 8 May 1938 by Archbishop Gilroy of Sydney. The ceremony was attended by the then Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, and the former Prime Minister, James Scullin. It was dedicated to St Christopher because it was thought that Canberra (which means "meeting place") would be a place to which many travellers would come. On 4 June 1939, the parish church of St Christopher was officially opened by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Panico, in the presence of the new Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. St Christopher's striking Spanish Romanesque style was the work of the Sydney architect Clement Glancy.
In 1940 Father Haydon was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese of Goulburn, and on 16 March 1941 he was invested by the Apostolic Delegate as Protonotary Apostolic, and the parish celebrated its new Monsignor. In 1947, the first Ordination in Canberra took place. Fr Vivian Morrison, son of the pioneering family of “Tralee” Queanbeyan, who donated the tower and bells of the extended Cathedral, was ordained to the priesthood. The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn was formally established on 5 February 1948, although the first Archbishop, Dr Terence McGuire, continued to reside in Goulburn. On 19 April 1949, Monsignor Haydon died. He was described as “respected by all churchmen as he has been loved by his own flock". A memorial to him was added to the Parish in 1962 when the Haydon Catholic Centre and Library was opened on the Cathedral site. In 1955, Archbishop Eris O’Brien took up residence in Canberra. Archbishop Thomas Cahill succeeded him in 1967 and under his direction, in March 1972 the extension of St Christopher’s was commenced to double its seating capacity and to provide adequate liturgical space. This work, which retained the magnificent stained glass windows of the original church, was completed in February 1973 according to plans developed by Clement Glancy, son of the original architect. The plans for the enlarged church included the bell tower, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, large sacristies and a crypt. The extensions were consecrated by Archbishop Cahill on 5 February 1973, the Silver Jubilee of the Archdiocese, and the extended St Christopher's became the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
Archbishop Cahill died in 1978 and was succeeded by Archbishop Edward Clancy (1979- 1983) and Archbishop Francis Carroll (1983-2006). In June 2008, under the direction of Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the Cathedral was refurbished to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese. It is unlikely that any other church will ever claim the distinction of having four Prime Ministers as parishioners: Scullin, Lyons, Forde and Chifley. Yet it was the unsung work of humble and generous men and women which leaves us in possession of this splendid place of worship. A gift from the past to present and future generations, St Christopher’s Cathedral remains an enduring testimony to a community united in faith under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ.