St Joseph's Māori Girls' College was founded in 1867 by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions. Two years earlier, a group of four sisters had come from France by sailing boat to start Sacred Heart College at Napier. The Sisters, and the Māori Missioner, Fr Reigner, SM saw the great need for education for Māori in that rapidly changing world, and so they started a little boarding school for Māori girls on the convent property. It was called St Joseph's Providence and was opened on October 10th, 1867, with twenty pupils, the first principal being Sister Mary St John.
Records from the 1880s to 1930s show about 40 to 60 pupils lived at the College. After the Napier earthquake of 1931 the College was rebuilt on its present property at Greenmeadows and reopened in 1935, to expand its roll to about 130 pupils. During the 1970s a building programme was undertaken so that now St Joseph's is able to accommodate up to 260 students. The College became an integrated Secondary School in 1982 and from 1993 a limited number of day students were able to enrol. It is intended to keep St Joseph's at this size so that its 'whanau spirit' will remain.