From the earliest days of Catholic settlement in Dannevirke, it had been the hope and intention of the parishioners that their children would have a Catholic education provided for them in Dannevirke. Not until the church had been built and the parish priest housed in suitable accommodation were they able to turn their attention to this goal.
An announcement was made to the parish on Sunday 5 April 1909 that, through His Grace Archbishop Redwood, arrangements had been made with the Sisters of the Mission to build a convent in Dannevirke.
Tenders were called in August of the same year for a building capable of housing up to 100 children but with the provision for allowing for further enlargement. The successful tenderer was Mr JH Fairhurst, who was responsible for many of the early buildings of the town.
The foundation stone was unofficially laid by a member of the contractors team in December 1909 but Father Cahill, the parish priest at the time, re-covered it until the official ceremony conducted by Archbishop Redwood on Sunday 30 January 1910.
Archbishop Redwood dedicated the school to St. Joseph, stating that it would “consequently be called St. Joseph’s School.” It is interesting to note that despite this, it is only since the demolition of the brick convent in 1988 that the more commonly used term “Convent School” has given way to that which was originally intended.
In his address Archbishop Redwood made reference to the enthusiasm of Father Cahill in providing the children of the parish with a good Catholic education, and expressed the hope that a new convent would soon be a reality. At this time the parish had made remarkable progress in a very short time and it was one of the most up-to-date of the Diocese.
The total cost of establishing the new school was 2500 pounds.
The first four Sisters, two each from Christchurch and Napier, had arrived in the parish on 27 January 1910 and were accommodated in the old presbytery, and then ten days later they were moved to the new presbytery. For the first week of February they were busy interviewing parents hoping to send their children to the new school, classes began on Monday 07 February 1910 with an opening roll of 67. In a sign of things to come, there were 78 present the following day and before the end of the third week of February the number of 100 had been passed, being boosted by country children coming in by train.
By the end of the first six months in operation it was obvious that the school building would have to be extended to accommodate all the children wanting to attend. The contract was let to Mr Fairhurst to build two more classrooms, to be separated by revolving shutters in the centre which would open out into a large community room. A stage was to be erected at one end for concert purposes, with side porches and lavatory basins included. This extension cost close to 700 pounds, the bulk of which came from a very generous donation by a parishioner, Mrs Catherine O’Daly, in whose honour the building was named.
The parish, in a response to meeting the challenge of class overflows, constructed a new two classroom block and two person staffroom. Archbishop McKeefry opened this block in February 1963. The same year the Old Cottage was demolished to make was for the swimming baths.
Other improvements included:
1967 – completion of the concreting of the school playground.
1971 – the combined parish/school hall was opened.
1978 – the school library was constructed.
1981 – the Principals office was established in the Convent.
1988 – demolition of the brick convent.
1988 – the new administration block was transported onto site.
1991 – the original brick classroom building was demolished after the 1990 earthquakes.
1991 – the new block of four classrooms, a library and resource room was opened.
1991/92 – construction of the adventure playground.
1994 – construction of Te Whare Wananga o Hato Hohepa.
2007 – the administration block refurbishment was completed.
2009 – construction of a new junior playground.