The Macau Ricci Institute was founded on December 10, 1999, just a few days before the handover of Macau, on December 20, under direct Chinese administration. The original inception of the Institute, however, dates back to 1994, when the city of Macau celebrated the Fourth Centenary of the foundation, in 1594, of the University of St. Paul by the Society of Jesus.

On July 26, 2000 the Macau Ricci Institute was legally recognized as a public institution in Macau. Among the founding members of the Institute were seven Jesuits and three distinguished scholars and professionals. After renovation and preparation of the facility housing the Institute, the first priority was to bring together, through donation and purchase of books, a basic working library.

The opening ceremony of the Macau Ricci Institute library and facilities was held on October 12, 2001, the year of the celebration of the 400th. anniversary of Matteo Ricci's arrival in Beijing in 1601. Before the opening ceremony, the Chief Executive of Macau, Dr. Edmond Ho, welcomed in a private meeting the Board of Directors of the Institute.

The opening ceremony was highlighted by the presentation and display of the facsimile and critical edition of a Portuguese-Chinese manuscript dictionary composed by early Jesuits Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) soon after their arrival in Macau (1582). Such a cultural program, fruit of the collaboration of the Instituto Portugues do Oriente and the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History, at the University of San Francisco, was really fitting the event. The dictionary has since been published in Lisbon by the Portuguese National Library and the Portuguese Oriental Institute.

The Macau Ricci Institute has continued to develop and offer a variety of cultural, professional, and research programs.