The custom-built, stone St Joseph’s schoolhouse was commissioned in 1866 by Father Woods, who had arranged a building loan through the National Bank of Australia with five parishioners acting as guarantors.
A local parent, Thomas Artaud, drew up plans; tenders were called; and a local builder, James Stark, won the contract for £290.
Early in 1867 Father Woods left Penola for Adelaide ‘amid the tears of his people’ to become the Adelaide-based inaugural Director-General of Catholic Education. Mary kept him informed about the tardiness of the building programme, reporting on 5 May that the committee considered ‘the ceiling unsafe and the colouring defective, so Stark has yet another week’s work before him’.
Mary and her sister Annie finally moved into the commodious, light-filled schoolhouse with their excited pupils before the 11 June examination, after which she had to leave for Adelaide, returning briefly in April 1868 to help Sisters Teresa McDonald and Agnes Smith settle in.
Sisters of Saint Joseph taught and lived in the schoolhouse until 1871, they returned to Penola from 1875 to 1885, and again in 1889. After that they did not return until 1936. When the new St Joseph’s school (now the Mary MacKillop Memorial School) was opened after Easter, the schoolhouse became a parish hall.