About October 1880 the first Catholic School was opened in Ashburton using the Church as a classroom.  

It was conducted by “two or three young ladies recently arrived from Auckland who have considerable experience as teachers”.  The opening roll was three pupils but by March 1881 it had risen to twenty seven.

From 1884 until 1986 the school was staffed by the sisters of Our Lady of the Missions.  The original school was called “The Select School” and attracted nine boarders from Christchurch and eight day pupils from Ashburton.  It was established along with a convent in Wakanui Road.  The girls from the parish school were transferred there and the Havelock Street School now became “the boy’s school”.  In June 1894 the convent and the school was shifted from Wakanui Road to a recently purchased site on Sealy Street.  In the mid 1890”s the “select School” became Sacred Heart School and included both day and boarding pupils.  The sisters still operated the parish school  for girls and that became known as St Patrick’s while the boy’s school was still controlled directly by the Parish.

In 1904 the boys school came under the control of the sisters when it and the girls school combined.  All primary classes were now taught in the former church in Havelock Street.  The name St Joseph’s dates back to about this time.

In 1934 the roll of St Joseph’s stood at 106.  “The Education Board expressed pleasure at the results of their inspection in spite of the old and cramped building.”

During the summer of 1935 the schools were only opened from 9am to 12 noon because of the intense heat of the hottest summer experienced to that date.

The main building of the present school was opened on October 14  1951.  During the late 1950”s the school roll peaked at 282 – all this with five teachers!  The Education Board threatened to de-register the school unless steps were taken to reduce the class sizes.  This was done with the help of two lay teachers. Three more classrooms on the Burnett Street site were built and occupied early in 1960.

The four classroom building on the South side of the road was originally built as a girls Secondary school (Sacred Heart College) and opened in June 1961.This school ceased operations in December 1971 and was taken over by the Senior department of St Joseph’s School. Use of these classrooms were discontinued in 2008 when two new classrooms were built on the north school so that the full school could be sited on the one site.

In 1974 Mr Kevin Crean became the first lay Principal of St Joseph’s.  The school became an Integrated School in April 1981.

In 1992, a new administration and classroom block was opened on the northern site of the school. The school library was renovated and automated in 1999 and a ‘time out’ garden was established.

Since the advent of Tomorrows Schools and the appointment of the inaugural Board of Trustees, the School and Parish partnership has begun to grown.  The Board is supportive of the staff and progressive in outlook.  A good working relationship exists between staff, board and the hardworking Home and School Association.

In 2008 two new classrooms were built on site. So after many years of collaboration with the 2 parishes the school was finally on one site. The Holy Spirit Parish (Tinwald) and Holy Name Willows Trust contributed money to this project. Without their support the school would still be on two sides of the road.

Following the Christchurch Earthquakes of February 2011 the school had an increase in enroments and a new classroom was built on site to cater for these students. 

The school continued to grow and in 2014 a new modern learning block was built.  This new block, which caters for the equivalent of two traditional classes, was opened for use in 2015.  The staff and students who work here are using up to date research and knowledge to support students to learn and achieve and to be prepared for life in our world today. 

In 2022, four new classrooms were built to upgrade the exisiting older classrooms. These are modern, light and  spacious areas .