Orange County’s Santiago Retreat Center, a 500-acre site offering retreats to Southern California’s four Catholic dioceses, has launched the Santiago Trade School, near Silverado, 19 miles east of Santa Ana.

The program offers participants an introduction to construction trades and basic formation in the Catholic Faith. Its inaugural class began with five students in September, with a second session opening to an additional 15 students in January 2024.

Students of the two-year program will be introduced to all the trade skills necessary to build a home. They work on projects at the retreat center itself and receive spiritual formation, which includes daily Mass and the study of classic works of philosophy and theology. The daily schedule begins with morning prayer in the retreat center’s chapel, followed by breakfast and work at the center. Mass and lunch are followed by study, dinner and evening prayer, with time for socializing in the evening, followed by lights out at 11 p.m.

The goal of the program is to form good Catholics with job skills in demand in the construction industry. Tuition is $28,000 per year.

Mark Padilla, executive director for the Santiago Retreat Center, spoke with Catholic World Report about the new Santiago Trade School.

CWR: How did the idea for the Santiago Trade School develop?

Mark Padilla: The idea came from Chris Weir, executive director of the Camino Schools, who has had an extensive background in classical education and advises us. He asked: what do you think about a Catholic trade school for post-secondary young men? We’re a 500-bed facility permitted for another 2,000 beds, and as we attempt to meet the needs of the local church, we always have construction going on. We can see that the trades are screaming for quality employees.

And, not only can we offer an introduction to the trades, as a Catholic facility we can teach the human formation aspect. We can offer our students daily Mass, prayer, study of classic works and opportunities for confession. Participants can get hands-on experience with general construction in the morning, and then we can teach them the fundamentals of philosophy and theology in the afternoon.

On-site we have heavy machine equipment, they can learn welding and machine maintenance, and we even have a farm and ranch, so they can learn about caring for cattle, goats, turkeys, chicken, quail and bees as well as crops. With the set schedule we can offer, they’ll have a good rhythm of life.

We looked at two other such schools in other parts of the country, including St. Joseph the Worker in Steubenville, Ohio, and Harmel Academy of the Trades in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Since we’re in Southern California, and construction goes on throughout the year, a general construction program made sense, and we developed the program so that in two years students learn everything that goes into building a house. And, with our philosophy and theology program, they learn how to manage what goes on inside that house.

Once they leave our school our graduates can be accepted into apprentice programs, which will be able to provide them with a living wage which will enable them to support a family….

By Jim Graves, author of Cal Catholic’s Churches worth driving to
Full story published in Catholic World Report