The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the third church built on the Craigie Avenue property. A wooden chapel was opened on 25th October 1874, and was replaced three years later by a larger church. Increasing numbers of parishioners dictated the need for a further and even larger building. The inspiration for the design of the basilica came during a visit to the United States by the Parish Priest, Father John Tubman. His brother was a priest at the cathedral in Reno, Nevada, and Father Tubman was impressed with the design of that church. So it is that the exterior of the Timaru basilica bears a passing resemblance to the Cathedral of St. Thomas Aquinas in Reno.
In 1907 Father Tubman commissioned Dunedin architect, Frank Petre, to draw up plans for a new church. The completed plans concerned Father Tubman. He felt the design was too ambitious given the size of the parish and the financial resources available. He re-drew the plans, leaving out the towers and sacristies. Petre was infuriated with the proposal and threatened to withdraw from the venture unless his original plans were adhered to. Father Tubman, however, was determined to proceed with his modified plan and took over supervision himself.
When Bishop John Grimes S.M. of Christchurch was approached by Father Tubman, he was appalled with the revised plans and Father Tubman, after due consideration, relented and undertook to construct a new church using the original plans of Frank Petre.
Father Tubman hired Bart Moriarty as building surveyor and the ambitious project began in earnest. The site was cleared and leveled using voluntary labour. Father Tubman had at the time £7000. In order to maintain the budget the tradesmen were paid at the end of each day. Many district farmers contributed their labour and materials. Farmers at the Levels felled blue gums to use as scaffolding and transported them to the site. Parishioners from St. Andrews carted sand and shingle to the railhead to be transported to the Timaru rail yards where bullock teams delivered it to the site. It wasn't uncommon to see Father Tubman climbing ladders and scaffolding to check progress.