Story by S.L. Hansen
SEWARD (SNR) - Thanks to the generosity of people across the Diocese of Lincoln through the Joy of the Gospel campaign, St. Gregory the Great Seminary (SGGS) in Seward is about to expand.
The groundbreaking ceremony for a new wing will be Sunday, April 24 at 2 p.m.
The new wing, which will be completed in time for the fall 2017 semester, will provide new dorm rooms, two additional classrooms and a science lab. The parking lot will be expanded as well.
One classroom will be designed for lectures and another for seminar-style classes.
“These show and accommodate the different teaching styles that are employed here at SGGS,” rector Father Jeffrey Eickhoff said.
The science lab will end the 3-mile journey to Concordia University, where seminarians have had to do lab work since the seminary opened in 1998. Father Eickhoff expressed gratitude to Concordia for their partnership, but said it’s time for SGGS to have their own facility.
The rest of the wing will have 11 dorm rooms. Five additional rooms will be the laundry, lounge, etc., but they are designed to convert to dorm rooms someday, if needed.
Overall, this expansion will increase the seminary’s capacity from 58 to 80.
“The number 80 was discussed among the faculty and administration as a watershed number,” Father Eickhoff said. He explained it’s the maximum amount of students the seminary can currently handle without adding teachers or class sections.
When SGGS opened, it had room for 48 seminarians.
“We hit this number in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years,” Father Eickhoff reported.
Obviously, not all of those young men were from the Diocese of Lincoln. Twelve other dioceses have sent seminarians to SGGS.
“With our growing numbers and the growing numbers of seminarians in many dioceses, the Diocese of Lincoln can continue to provide a service to the larger Church in the United States, and also enrich its own diocesan seminary formation by expanding its mission and scope,” Father Eickhoff said.
Being able to serve other dioceses is not only a good thing to do, he said, it makes good financial sense.
“Greater numbers decrease the cost per seminarian,” Father Eickhoff said. “When the seminary opened, it cost us over $25,000 per student to educate each of the 23 seminarians that year. In the last three years, despite inflationary costs of food, utilities, payroll, etc., the cost has been less than $20,000 per seminarian.”
He continued, “This is easy to see as you think that the seminary still has to pay to heat and cool the same building, light the same hallways, and pay the same teachers.”
Of course, some costs do increase. Two summers ago, the dining, kitchen and food storage areas were all upgraded to accommodate the growing student body, and additional staff was hired to keep SGGS running smoothly.
“The major increasing expense is the food bill, which is now over $100,000 each year – these guys eat a lot!” Father Eickhoff said with a grin.
A few years ago, when SGGS was nearing capacity, two classrooms were turned into five additional double-occupancy dorm rooms. That allowed 10 more men to be added to the student body.
“We had 56 seminarians at the beginning of this 2015-16 school year,” Father Eickhoff said.
Six other dioceses are responsible for 34 of those men, and there are two other dioceses looking at SGGS in the next two years. If that sounds like the Lord has blessed multiple parts of the country with more vocations, it’s a fair assessment.
“I would say that each of our current outside dioceses has seen an increase in the number of seminarians in the last five years,” Father Eickhoff said.
Seminary leadership is also planning another construction phase as more funds become available. Depending on the most urgent need, St. Gregory the Great will next add either a bigger gymnasium and exercise/weight room or more classrooms, including a lecture hall.
“Our present gym was designed for junior-high age students, with a capacity of about 20,” he lamented.
During the winter months when the snow is blowing and temperatures drop, the gym is the only recourse for the seminarians when they gather for recreation.
“For our 50-plus college men, the gym is very cramped and even a dangerous place to play,” Father Eickhoff admitted.
He hopes that within the next five years, a new gym will become a reality, but if additional classrooms are a more immediate need, the gym will have to wait.
On behalf of SGGS seminarians, staff and faculty, Father Eickhoff expressed his thanks to all the people of the diocese who support the seminary with their generous gifts.
“It is an investment in not only a building and growing college, but the future of the Church and the face of the priesthood in the United States for years to come,” Father Eickhoff said. “Please continue to support us spiritually in your prayers: may we all pray for vocations and holy priests to serve our souls and the souls of the many people who need them!”
All are welcome to attend the hour-long groundbreaking ceremony at 2 p.m. April 24. A reception hosted by the seminarians and the religious sisters who cook for them will follow.