The main part of St Mary’s Cathedral with its distinctive east-facing Gothic windows was constructed in 1886 by pioneer priest Fr James Hegarty.
He initiated work on this red brick church when it was rumoured that Sale would become the seat of a Gippsland-based diocese and he wanted to ensure that the town had a church worthy of being called a cathedral.
The first Bishop of Sale, James Corbett brought back from Europe French-made bells for the free-standing belfry in the cathedral grounds, as well as statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and Stations of the Cross.
In 1910 the basic rectangular building underwent major extensions which included a sanctuary, bishop’s sacristy, priests’ and altar boys’ sacristy and Our Lady’s chapel.
A Romanesque onyx high altar purchased from France was installed in the new sanctuary, which features impressive stained glass windows and a large statue of Mary Help of Christians.
A blackwood chair with a carved decorative canopy was obtained and Bishop Corbett donated a polished wooden pulpit. This pulpit was later transferred to St Mary’s Church, in the neighbouring town of Maffra.
In the 1930s the Stations of the Cross were relocated to St Joseph’s Church, Korumburra, and were replaced by the present hand-painted ceramic stations set into concrete slabs.
Under the third Bishop of Sale, Richard Ryan, further additions were made including a high marble pulpit, marble altar rails and a mosaic floor in the sanctuary.
He also purchased three of the four angels which flanked the altar at the 1934 Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne and had these placed on the parapets of the cathedral.
At this time the old red brick building was also cement rendered and painted.
Few changes were made over the next 50 years until the sixth Bishop, Eric D’Arcy renovated the sanctuary area by removing the high pulpit and altar rails and having the canopy removed from the bishop’s chair.
Four marble tablets depicting the Gospel writers which had been on the high pulpit were placed across the front of the altar.
The next major change was carried out in 1993 under the seventh bishop Bishop Jeremiah Coffey.
This included the assembly area extension on the north side with its curved glass windows.
Our Lady’s chapel and the northern confessional were demolished to make way for the extension.
The tabernacle was cut down in size so that it no longer dominated the centrally placed statue of Mary and the high altar was brought forward to become the main altar.
The tablets of the Gospel writers were relocated to the wall flanking the bishop’s chair, the floor level of the sanctuary was raised considerably and carpet was placed over the mosaic floor.
A new Shrine of Our Lady was built to give prominence to an icon blessed by Pope Leo 13 in 1890. A bronze bas-relief of Blessed Mary MacKillop by Annemieke Mein was placed in the foyer and draws many visitors to the cathedral. The sculpture features a small piece of wood from Mary MacKillop’s coffin, sealed under epoxy resin.
Other works included reducing the width of the wooden pews, repairs to the slate roofing tiles, improved drainage in an effort to combat rising damp, construction of internal toilets and a small kitchenette.
The cathedral contains the remains of four of its bishops. Bishop Corbett lays in the main section of the church beneath the front rows of pews on the right hand side. Buried in Our Lady’s Shrine are Bishops Richard Ryan, Patrick Lyons and Arthur Fox.
Bishop Jeremiah Coffey’s grave lies in the cathedral grounds between the east wall of the cathedral and Pearson St. frontage.
Following an extensive assessment of the condition of the Cathedral, a restoration plan was launched in November 2010. Works needed to bring the Mother Church of the diocese back to its former splendor is estimated to cost around $1 million. Bishop Christopher Prowse launched an appeal to raise funds towards the restoration. The same evening a pictorial history of the Cathedral was launched. Three Springtimes: Chronicles of St Mary’s Cathedral Sale, by noted historian Peter Synan is available for $40 from the St Mary’s Cathedral Piety Stall, and Sion House, Warragul.
Following the move of the Bishop’s residence and all diocesan staff to Warragul in July 2012, the cathedral has remained in Sale and is used by the Bishop for all major liturgical celebrations of the year.
This Cathedral Church, built in 1886-1887 to the design of Barker and Henderson, is notable for the broad polygonal plaster-vaulted apse which, together with the side chapel, is elaborately pained and decorated. The interior also includes marble fittings with mosaic panels, stained glass windows and an anonymous pipe organ in the rear gallery. Originally of brick with decorated Gothic window tracery of Waurn Ponds stone, the church is now cement faced. The first Bishop of Sale, Dr James Corbett, was appointed to the see in 1857, having previously been parish priest of St Mary’s, East St Kilda, where he was closely associated with the architect William Wardell.