In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, St. John Paul II suggested that the key to social problems is a proper understanding of human work. Above all else, Harmel Academy exists to help the working man develop an understanding of the dignity and adventure of work.


Harmel Academy takes its name from Léon Harmel, a successful French Catholic industrialist who led a movement to recognize the dignity and rights of industrial workers. The father of a truly practiced Catholic Social Teaching in modern times, his work directly inspired and influenced Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Like Léon Harmel, we hope to create a community that believes the vocation to work is an invitation to solidarity with God in his creation of the world and in service of the human family. We do this by creating not only programs, but a residential community of young men looking to live lives of holiness.


It will sound cliche, but it’s true nonetheless: the idea for Harmel Academy was hatched in a garage. One day in 2015, when Ryan Pohl — a machinist and shop teacher — was working on a boat motor in his garage, he wondered why it was that Catholic colleges provided spiritual formation and training for certain professions — nursing, for example — but not for the skilled trades. “Why, God,” Ryan found himself praying, “can’t there be a school like that?” And the answer that came wasn’t expected: “Because you haven’t started one yet.”

A Bishop’s Blessing

After sharing the idea with historic building renovator Brian Black, the two men decided the first thing they should do is to seek the counsel and blessing of their Bishop, David Walkowiak. Bishop Walkowiak was immediately supportive, and has remained one of Harmel’s biggest champions in the years since.

Community and Business

A strong suit of Harmel’s development was that the founders knew the school would have to be deeply informed by the needs and insights of local businesses. They formed a set of advisory committees from a number of local business owners, manufacturers, educators, and tradesmen. The goal was to test their theories about the school against the real, felt needs of the community around them. They knew that education can easily fail when it abstracts itself from the lived experience of actual people doing actual work in actual economies.

Launching Amidst Global Crisis

After years of preparation, Harmel Academy received its final license to operate on March 12, 2020. On March 13, the State of Michigan was shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the significant challenges this presented to the fledgling school, and thanks to Harmel’s many generous and entrepreneurial donors, Harmel was able to welcome its first cohort of trailblazing students the following fall for introductory coursework, and launch the program in earnest in January of 2021. This inaugural class graduated in May of 2022.

A Help To Others

Since launching, we have fielded and continue to field countless requests for advice and help in starting similar programs in other areas of the country. While our Grand Rapids program remains our central focus, we remain committed to doing what we can to help this model of trades education, spiritual formation, intellectual education, and business collaboration take root in whatever community the Lord intends. Please contact us if you think we can help.