In the year 1847, Mons. Ludovico Maria (die Conti) Besi, an Italian Jesuit, who was the Apostolic Administrator of Nanjing, decided to build a church in the southern part of the old Chinese city of Shanghai, just in the area of the pier of the Dong family; for this reason, it was later known as the Dong Jia Du Church. After six years of building works, the new church was consecrated on My 15, 1853 at the Feast of Pentecost, by Mons. Fracesco Saverio Maresca, the new Apostolic Administrator of the Nanjing region, to which Shanghai belonged. The church was dedicated to St. Francis Xavier and has since enjoyed a great reputation because of its marvellous architecture.
The church was designed by the Spanish Jesuit Fr. Juan Ferrer. It has a basilica form. The facade has an early Spanish baroque style, apparently a copy of the church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Rome. The interior has a renaissance style, with fabulous arched roofs, thick pillars and lotus-designed bas-reliefs.
In 1946, Shanghai was raised to the status of a diocese and the church was thus designated as an Episcopal residence and became the first cathedral in Shanghai. On July 14, 1993 it was declared a cultural relic of Shanghai. On november 3, 2003 a liturgical celebration to mark the 150th anniversary of the church, was presided by Mons. Aloisyus Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai.
In the year 2008, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Catholicism to Shanghai, through the earliest and famous convert named Xu Guanqi, the diocese of Shanghai decided to undertake a project to renovate this important church.
The parish priest, Fr. Joseph Lu, who had recently learnt of the Byzantine style of painting, with the approval of Mons. Alyoisys Jin Luxian, entrusted the renewal of the apse and the presbytery to Francisco (Kiko) Arguello a Spanish painter, and Mattia Del Prette, an Italian architect. The new altarpiece was finished on March 21, 2010 with the blessing of the artists at a Mass presided by the Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, Mons. Joseph Xing. Later, on June 13, 2013, the church was reopened with a Mass presided by Mons. Aloisyus Jin Luxian.