When the first Catholic priest, Father George Corcoran, set foot in Port Elizabeth in 1840 it wasn’t just a case of getting off the boat and taking up his position. No, he was shipwrecked in Cape St Francis and had to travel the last 100km to town on horseback. Once he arrived here he found that there were only 42 Catholics in the town. But the show had to go on and in the ensuing years the Catholic community in Port Elizabeth started to flourish. It meant that the congregation needed a church and Father Corcoran obtained a plot for a church on Prospect Hill / Castle Hill in 1844. By 1847 a new two-storey building was erected on the site on which the MacSherry hall stands today.
In 1847 Dr Devereux who was based in Cape Town at the time was appointed as the First Bishop of the newly formed Vicariate of the Eastern Cape. Father Corcoran died of yellow fever in South America in 1852 and Dr Devereux transferred Father Thomas Murphy from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth. Father Murphy was responsible for the building of the church as it is today although he first extended the then existing building which became known as St. Augustine’s Hall. This served as school, church and hall.
The design of the church was apparently based upon the style of a church in Selbridge near Dublin, Ireland with the plans being formulated by a Mr McCarthy but executed by the local architect and first Town Engineer of Port Elizabeth, Robert Archibald. The Foundation Stone was laid in December 1861 and construction took place under the watchful eye of Father Murphy. Five years later on the 25th April 1866, with the steeple almost completed, St.Augustine’s was opened and solemnly consecrated by Bishop Patrick Moran. It’s very interesting to mention that this magnificent building was built as a parish church, not a cathedral. Apon his death Father Murphy was buried beneath the high altar in the cathedral.
The bronze statue of Christ the King which can be seen above the door was donated by the Frost family in 1931.
The parish church of St Augustine’s became the bishop’s church and cathedral some 54 years later but was only formally declared and consecrated as a cathedral in 1939.
Information courtesy of http://staugustinespe.co.za/history/