The Rise of Catholic Trade Schools — By: Church Militant

DETROIT ( – Amid a significant skilled labor shortage in the United States, Catholic trade schools are emerging nationwide, offering a unique combination of skills training, spiritual development and affordability.

These institutions, which cultivate both faith and practical skills in trades experiencing high demand, provide an alternative to traditional four-year colleges.

Santiago Trade School

In the rural parts of Orange County, California, Santiago Trade School stands as a beacon for men seeking to become “excellent Christian tradesmen.” 

The school operates on a revolving cohort system, admitting into its two-year program 15 new students each semester. 

This program emphasizes the development of not only trade skills but also character, work ethic, spiritual wisdom and camaraderie. 

Students experience a low student-to-teacher ratio, ensuring personalized attention.

Learners gain hands-on experience in constructing housing for the Santiago Retreat Center, practicing various trades from concrete foundations to electrical work. 

Additionally, the program includes a strong spiritual component, with daily prayers, biweekly formation courses and studies in philosophy and theology. 

This approach aims to develop men who prioritize spiritual values alongside professional skills.

Most students can graduate debt-free.

The school offers a wide range of training in the trades, including general construction, architecture, design, agriculture, horticulture, hydrology, soil science and more specialized areas like heavy machinery, automotive and animal care. 

Tuition is $28,000 per semester, but most students can graduate debt-free through a work-study program.

St. Joseph the Worker

St. Joseph the Worker in Steubenville, Ohio, differentiates itself as a trade college rather than a traditional trade school. 

The curriculum is divided into phases. In the first three years, students begin with liberal arts and shop studies. They receive broad training across various building trades through the “anatomy of a house” program, covering fundamentals from site layout to finishes.

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In the second and third years, students choose a specific trade such as carpentry, HVAC, electrical or plumbing. They then begin in-depth training, including working as laborers and apprentices on actual job sites while being paid for their work.

During the fourth through sixth years, in which students function in their home state or other qualified area, the program continues with online liberal arts studies focusing on Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation. Students accumulate on-the-job training hours.

They offer new pathways for students seeking alternatives to traditional higher education.

The goal is to graduate without overwhelming debt yet with a bachelor’s degree in Catholic studies, skilled trade training, and the opportunity for well-paid employment.

The Catholic studies degree explores the intersection of faith and reason, covering topics from Scripture and philosophy to economics and math. The approach emphasizes a holistic understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition, integrating faith into all aspects of learning and vocational training.

Harmel Academy of the Trades

Harmel Academy of the Trades in Grand Rapids, Michigan, now in its fourth year, offers an educational approach blending skilled-trade training with a robust humanities curriculum. 

The academy is a Catholic, residential trade school focused on forming Christian men. It offers both a two-year and a one-year skilled trades program. 

The foundational year, known as the Foundations of Skilled Stewardship program, is designed to teach men the basics of skilled work and spiritual maturity. It includes training in a range of disciplines such as construction, welding, electrical work, carpentry, HVAC and more.

The program emphasizes hands-on learning on custom job sites, along with guided instruction on work ethic and character formation.

In addition to trade skills, Harmel Academy places a significant emphasis on the humanities. Its four-semester cycle of humanities classes, named “God and Man at Work,” integrates various aspects of human life and work with Catholic teachings. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including human flourishing, the philosophy and theology of work and the universal call to holiness.

The academy’s mission extends beyond individual development to address broader societal issues. It seeks to provide solutions to the ongoing skilled worker shortage in the United States and challenges in the traditional educational system. 

By integrating labor with spiritual life and promoting the value of manual labor, Harmel Academy aims to cultivate leaders who are grounded in both skilled trades and Catholic social teachings.

The school’s tuition model, scholarships, and “Solidarity Fund” aim to help students focus on learning without financial burdens.

Kateri College

Slated to open in fall 2025, Kateri College in Gallup, New Mexico, plans to offer a four-year liberal arts degree and trade certification. 

The college aims to bridge the gap between intellectual life and manual labor, starting with trades like carpentry and construction. 

The school focuses on reducing student debt through partnerships and paid work opportunities, especially by reaching out to the sizable Native American population in New Mexico.

This growing trend of Catholic trade schools reflects a broader shift in education, focusing on practical skills in high-demand disciplines while integrating faith and character formation. 

As these schools continue to develop, they offer new pathways for students seeking alternatives to traditional higher education.

— Campaign 31877 —

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