About the beginning of February, 1842, the Catholic mission was established at Hilo, when Father Heurtel baptized 136-persons, and engaged the new Catholics to erect three grass chapels there and at other points of the district. (Yzendoorn)
It was later decided to divide the island into four Catholic missionary districts, which were allotted as follows: Kona to Father Heurtel, Kohala to Father Lebret, Hāmākua and Hilo to Father Maudet, and Kau with Puna to Father Marechal.
With the arrival on March 26, 1846 of five priests, two catechists and three lay-brothers, more support was provided. Included in the new missionary party was Father Charles Pouvet – he was sent to support Hilo.
As early as 1864, Father Pouzot had 18-students at his English school in Hilo (he felt the need to provide education for the Catholic children, rather than them attending Harvey Hitchcock’s (a Protestant missionary son) school in town.)
Five years later, on April 1, 1869, a small parish school was established for the purpose of teaching English to the native Hawaiians. Father Pouzot started with 10-boarders, but wrote in January 1870, “I have only three now, for want of means to keep more.”
It grew with “much improved accommodations and new school rooms and dormitories.” Separate buildings housed the boys (in what was named Keola Maria) and the girls at St Joseph’s. (Alvarez)
The schools were separated and moved to different campuses in 1875, the boys to a site on Waianuenue Street and the girls on Kapiʻolani Street.
In 1885 the Marianist Brothers came to Hilo to run the boys’ school and renamed it St Mary’s School. Parish staff and lay persons taught the girls at St Joseph School. (Brothers of Mary also took charge of St Louis’s College at Honolulu and St Anthony’s School at Wailuku.)
Both St Mary’s Boys’ School (on the site of what is now the Hilo Terrace Apartments on Waianuenue) and the St Joseph Girls’ School (a block from the church on Kapiʻolani Street) had students through the eighth grade.
The Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse (Mother Marianne Cope’s congregation) arrived in 1900 to St Joseph’s School for Girls on Kapiʻolani Street.
“St Mary’s School, Hilo. This school … (is) in charge of the Brothers of Mary. (It is an) eight-grade school of very high standard. (For boys only.) Brother Albert, principal, and four other teachers, all Americans; 270 pupils.”
“St Joseph’s School, Hilo (for girls). Sister Susanna, principal, and four other Sisters, all Americans; 256 pupils. The wooden buildings are well constructed, the rooms large, well ventilated and lighted and can compete in attractiveness with any school room in the Islands. The grounds are sufficiently spacious and of pleasing aspect.” (Report of Superintendent, 1907)
The first seismograph station in Hilo was established during 1921, when a seismograph constructed by Dr Arnold Romberg in the shop of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was installed in the basement of one of the buildings of St Mary’s School on Waianuenue Street.
The new location was satisfactory until a new road, Laimana Street, was cut through only 15 feet from the vault. After that time “the traffic disturbance became increasingly troublesome.” (USGS)
Father Sebastian immediately launched Hilo’s second high school, ultimately the only Catholic high school on Big Island. Opening day was September 6, 1927, with 23 boys coming from St Mary’s, from Hilo Junior High and from as far away as Hakalau, Honomu and Laupāhoehoe.
In 1928, Father Sebastian then labored so that the girls at St Joseph’s would have their high school too. He created space for their classrooms by jacking up the school building and installing classrooms in the enlarged basement.
The first week of June 1929 was indeed a busy one for the parish hall. Wednesday, June 5, saw the first combined commencements of the eighth and tenth grades of St Joseph’s and St Mary’s School’s respectively.
The valedictory was given by Lawrence Capellas followed by an address by Bishop Stephen Alencastre, Hawai‘i’s only Hawaii-born Catholic bishop. (StJoeHilo)
In 1948, St Mary’s and St Joseph’s were consolidated into a co-educational institution which was built on the present St Joseph’s site at the intersection of Ululani and Hualālai streets. Some nine hundred and sixty-three students were enrolled for the first year.
In 1951, the Marianist Brothers were reassigned to teaching posts elsewhere. They were replaced in Hilo with a larger staff of Sisters as well as dedicated lay teachers.
The opening of the new school in 1951-52 was a memorable event for it marked the beginning of St Joseph as a complete coeducational school directly under the Pastor of St Joseph Parish.
The Franciscan Sisters withdrew from St Joseph School in June 2009 after a 109-year history. Joining the faculty are the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. (Lots of information here is from St Joseph’s and Alavarez.)