St. Joseph School, the Big Island’s oldest private school, was founded by Fr. Charles Pouzot, SS.CC., on April 1, 1869. The primary objective of this endeavor was to instruct the native Hawaiian students with the basics of their Catholic faith along with other academic subjects including the English language. For a period of time, the school was subsidized by the Royal Hawaiian government that, at the time, placed great emphasis on the instruction of English to native Hawaiians.
As the school population continued to increase, a separate school for boys, St. Mary's, was established in 1883. St. Joseph School continued as a school for girls. In 1900, the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, New York, arrived in Hilo to take over the administration of St. Joseph School.
After the Second World War, land was purchased for the construction of a single, coeducational parochial school in Hilo. The new school, built on the present site at the corner of Ululani and Hualalai Streets, under the direction of St. Joseph Pastor Thomas Kiernan, M.M., opened its doors in 1949 staffed by both the Brothers of Mary and the Franciscan Sisters. There were 960 students enrolled in the 1949-50 school year.
Since its founding, St. Joseph School has become a well-respected comprehensive institution of Catholic education—the only Catholic school on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi serving students in preschool through grade twelve. Although Catholic by tradition, St. Joseph School accepts a wide range of students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.
Panoramic aerial view of St. Joseph campus from 1952 yearbook