SEWARD (SNR) - Saint Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward has been awarded accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS), a regional accrediting agency.
"It’s kind of a seal of approval," explained Msgr. John Folda, rector of the seminary.
He added, "It’s a recognition that the program meets all the necessary standards for a college program."
The seminary has always been a legitimate institution of higher education. When Saint Gregory the Great Seminary opened in 1998, the State of Nebraska granted the institution the ability to confer college-level degrees on the men who graduated.
The NCACS accreditation, according to Msgr. Folda, "allows these degrees to be recognized beyond our own program and beyond the state."
Pursuing the regional accreditation and the national status and recognition that it carries was always part of the plan. Indeed, the Church requires that all seminaries earn this type of legitimacy.
In the first few years, however, the seminary staff was still developing the academic standards, institutional policies and other necessities that the accrediting agency looks for.
Msgr. Folda noted that in the beginning, Saint Gregory the Great Seminary had a cooperative arrangement with Concordia University, where the seminarians took a number of their courses.
"Four or five years after we opened, we had a full in-house faculty and curriculum," he said.
Some of the priests who were teaching at the seminary in those early years were simultaneously working on doctorate degrees, another factor evaluated by the NCACS.
The facility itself has also developed over the years. Additions were made to the original structure. The library – which literally started out with no books at all, slowly grew to somewhere around 41,000 catalogued volumes and is still a work in progress.
"We’ve developed a very good library," said Msgr. Folda. "The [NCACS] team acknowledged that the library is very impressive."
Another issue that had to be addressed was the ongoing financial solvency of the seminary. Securing revenue and establishing endowment funds to provide for the long term are signs of the seminary’s stability.
In 2008, Saint Gregory the Great Seminary became a candidate for accreditation with the NCACS. Various documents were filed, and in April of last year, the NCACS sent a team to visit the seminary and review the institution’s ability to meet the commission’s criteria for accreditation.
Last November, Msgr. Folda was notified that Saint Gregory the Great had earned a five-year accreditation, the normal duration for a first-time institution.
"In a few years, we’ll begin another self-study and prepare for another team’s evaluation," Msgr. Folda said.
Subsequent teams from the NCACS will be able to award the seminary up to 10 years accreditation. With many positive comments and a few suggestions related to the strategic planning and academic assessment processes from the NCACS visitors, the seminary staff already has goals in mind.
Meanwhile, the men attending Saint Gregory the Great Seminary and those who have graduated can enjoy the confidence of knowing that their education holds value on a national basis.
Men who are considering entering the seminary and bishops from other dioceses who are considering college-level programs can trust Saint Gregory the Great Seminary as a reliable, legitimized institution of priestly formation, offering credits that would generally be accepted in any other college in the nation.
Msgr. Folda acknowledged that the NCACS accreditation could help with recruitment, should he ever be in a position to hire another lay professor. It could also enable the seminary to grow, if bishops from outside the diocese decide to use the program for their own seminarians.
"A larger student body makes it more economical to run the program," he added pragmatically, "but ultimately, we’re not doing this to make money."
Currently there are 44 men studying for the priesthood at Saint Gregory the Great. Most are from the Diocese of Lincoln, but some hail from other dioceses as well.
Msgr. Folda expressed his gratitude to the people of the diocese who have offered so much support and so many prayers on behalf of the seminary and its students.
"We are very blessed," he said. "We always need prayers. Most importantly, we want people to encourage vocations and pray for our seminaries. "