St Joseph’s Church was officially opened on the 1st day of January 1900. The driving force behind the construction was Werahiko Borell and Hone Bidois, both sons of French settlers who had married into local Pirirakau families. These two men, with help from the local people, worked for months from early morning to late at night selecting, felling and pit-sawing the trees for transport down the river and into the harbour and finally to the site of the Church. The first post was put in place with an appropriate ceremony on the lst of November 1898.

The Church has always been kept in good repair; however, in 1992, in preparation for the Centennial of the Church opening, work was begun on major renovations which included a new roof and repairs to the steeple. Since then, the ongoing campaign to celebrate the Church's "big birthday" culminated in the alterations to the Sanctuary, including the new carvings and tukutuku panels. The panels have been part of a community effort beginning with the selection and harvesting of the kiekie (flax) from the bush, through the preparation and dying of the kiekie to the actual work of weaving the flax onto the panels. The panels themselves were prepared by Mr Bill Borell, a direct descendant of Werahiko. The repairs and alterations to the Church have been carried out under the direction of Mr Borell who has spent many hours on the project.

On January lst 2000 a hikoi (walk) was held from the Whakamarama bush site where Werahiko Borell and Hone Bidois had laboured, to St Joseph's Churcb 17 kilometres away. As is traditional, prayers were said at daybreak and the hikoi arrived at Te Puna at midday. Flags from the Pirirakau, Aotearoa NZ, France, the Mill Hill Society and the Society of Mary, were carried during that walk to honour the ancestors connected with the years of the Church's history. Celebrations carried on throughout the day.

The Church bell has had a chequered history. It was a gift from Bishop Pompallier for the original Catholic Church at Otumoetai in Tauranga. After Maori left Otumoetai, due to the confiscation of their land, the Church fell into disrepair and the bell was re-located at St Mary's in Tauranga. This caused considerable argument as the congregation at St Mary's were mainly Pakeha, whilst the Te Puna congregation were mainly Maori who regarded the bell as their property - it had called their people to Mass in the early days of their conversion to the faith. They now wished to install it in their new Church. Matters became so heated that Father Holierhoek from St Joseph's and Father Broomfield from St Mary's resorted to a physical struggle! After that, St Mary's kept the bell until 1920 when a party made a raid upon the belfry of St Mary's and removed the prized bell to St Joseph's where it remains to this day.

The Baptismal stone that stands at the right hand side of the step leading to the Church is an historic stone, which was also used in the original Church at Otumoetai. The Matheson family whose property is on the site of the original Church, looked after the stone for many years. It is through the generosity of this family that the stone was returned to the Pirirakau people in 1992, along with some of the original carvings, which are now in storage.

Stations of the Cross - These came from a church in Holland in Fr Dolphyn's time. They are also over one hundred years old. Behind the thirteenth station is the account of the loss of a baby at the Hui Aranga in the centenary year of the church. The picture was the focus of the Good Friday ceremonies and was in the chapel when the family had the final prayers before the sad journey, to take baby back to the ancestral homeland in the North.

Window - The Crucified, Risen Christ over Tauranga Moana
The window is the work of John and Trish McReady of Waikino. Jack Holly was the mastermind in the construction of the frame to carry the glass and the mounting in the feature window.

The design and carving of the main poles (pou) was done by Simon Madgewick. His assistants were James Tapiata, Rawiri Kuka, Motu from Tuapiro and Aranga from Otawhiwhi. Simon also designed the spiral work (kowhaiwhai) which was completed by Peter Nicholas, and designed the weaving work (tukutuku) which was completed by the many helpers of the families of the area.

Bill Borell, grandson of the original builder, did the carpentry for the reconstruction of the sanctuary. The vertical heart rimu come from the families of Ngati Han~arau. The totara for the sanctuary carvings came from Tawhiti a Maru Marae, Wairoa, northern Hawkes Bay. Representatives of the Marae were present for the rededication.

Pemission granted to use the above information from the St Joseph's commemorative brochure