Saint Francis Xavier’s church was established by Monsignor John Rigney in 1838. This was the first Catholic place of worship in the Illawarra. Archbishop Polding had a fondness for the Illawarra. The existing church was begun in 1848, was extended at the turn of the century and, again, in the 1930s. In 1951 the church was raised to cathedral status when Wollongong was declared a diocese by Pope Pius XII. The first Bishop, Thomas McCabe and his successor, William Murray, had plans for the construction of a new cathedral. However, after the restoration projects of Bishop Philip Wilson in 1999 and Bishop Peter Ingham in 2009, the current Bishop decided not to proceed with this plan. With a rapidly expanding region in the Macarthur and the downturn in the world economy Bishop Peter confirmed his decision by dedicating the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier on 16th March, 2010, on the death anniversary of Archbishop John Bede Polding, one hundred and sixty-two years after the church was begun.
Over the years the Wollongong parish has given birth to other parishes. In this sense, Saint Francis Xavier is truly the mother church of all the parishes in the Illawarra. In 2006 there were approximately 4,300 Catholics in the parish . It has an ageing population. One feature of the parish is the high percentage of visitors who come to the Masses.
The Saint Francis Xavier Assets Committee has been formed to examine ways in which the existing school premises can be used once the school has moved to the Fairy Meadow site. One of the urgent challenges for the parish is the ongoing funding required for the maintenance of the Cathedral.
In May 2020, the Cathedral was internally renewed.