Saint Joseph's was established in 1866 by the Sisters of St. Joseph de Cluny. The venerable Mother Anne Marie Javouhey was born in France and was the founder of the Catholic Order of St. Joseph's de Cluny in Chamblanc, France.
She travelled to French Guinea and Senegal to establish a mission presence, and she focused on improving the hospitals. The Governor of British West Africa to come to Sierra Leone to establish the excellent social service systems for which she had become renowned in France and beyond. Due to a yellow fever epidemic in the area, she focused her efforts on tending to the sick and injured. She died in 1851 and was beatified on October 15, 1950.
Many years after the death of Ann-Marie Javouhey, the Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph's of Cluny arrived in Sierra Leone. They were Roman Catholic nuns from Italy, Ireland, and France. They opened a day and boarding school for primary school girls at Howe Street, in the central part of Freetown, on December 8, 1866, named St. Joseph's Convent. The school provided much-needed, quality education for girls in Sierra Leone. This institution developed into what is now known as SJSS. SJSS ranks among SL’s top five secondary schools in terms of academic and sports achievements.
By the early 1900s, the school gained secondary school status. In 1927, "Convent," as the school is affectionately known, gradually changed to a grammar school and sent its first candidate to the Senior Cambridge Score Certificate Exam.
Around 1929, the Sisters of St. Joseph's of Cluny founded two schools for girls outside of Freetown. The schools were St. Joseph's Convent Bonthe and St. Joseph's Convent Moyamba. A fourth St. Joseph's Convent was founded in Makeni in 1962.
The current school buildings at Brookfields in Freetown were officially opened in February 1965 by the then Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, Sir Albert Margai. The first Sierra Leonean principal, Miss Florence Dillsworth, affectionately known as "Dilly," was appointed in 1973. She succeeded Sister Teresa MeKeon, the last nun to serve as principal of the school.
The school celebrated 150 years of existence in 2016 with events organized by various St. Joseph's alumnae associations all over the globe.
Formed in 1991, the Saint Joseph’s Secondary School (SJSS), Freetown brass band is one of the oldest female brass bands in Sierra Leone. The school band is the most remarkable in the country’s history of school brass band music. It provides a seamless blend of classical and pop culture entertainment. With the top notch music education provided to the girls, the band has won many accolades and awards and is fondly referred to as the ‘The Champion’.
In 2021, as the school celebrates its 155 year anniversary, we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have developed innovative ways to fundraise virtually to assist our girls, at our school.