On March 4, 2021, Saint John’s Seminary successfully completed the process of comprehensive evaluation for reaccreditation with its regional accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). The Commission provided Saint John’s with a full term of ten years before the next comprehensive evaluation—signaling confidence in the ability of Saint John’s to pursue and achieve its mission with excellence.
The present accreditation system has its origins in the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then, accreditors have provided member institutions with an occasion to jointly develop educational standards of excellence for higher education. These standards pertain to all aspects of institutional operations—from classroom quality, to financial stewardship, to governance. Through a process of institutional self-reflection and self-compliance, and peer review by colleagues of member schools, the accrediting organization provides confirmation to the public—e.g., students, those sponsoring students and the U.S. Department of Education—that each member institution, like Saint John’s, adequately and appropriately follow the rigorous educational standards established by the peer membership.
As one of seven regional accreditors throughout the United States, NECHE provides accreditation for most post-secondary, collegiate institutions throughout New England. NECHE accredits a member school as a whole, and in this process, also accredits each of the various degree programs offered directly by the school. Saint John’s Seminary has been a NECHE member since 1969 and offers six degree programs under the accreditation of NECHE: the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and the Master of Arts (M.A.) for seminarian formation in theology; the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) for seminarian formation in philosophy, a necessary study in preparation for theology; and the Master of Arts in Ministry (M.A.M.) and the Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) for laity, permanent deacons and religious.
Similar to the recent NECHE reaffirmation of accreditation, Saint John’s Seminary went through a successful reaccreditation in 2017 with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), an accreditor which specializes in theological graduate education in North America. ATS accredits all four master degrees mentioned above. Saint John’s Seminary also offers seminarians the Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) in affiliation with the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome. The Angelicum is not strictly speaking an accreditor of Saint John’s Seminary, but rather, determines by its own process of oversight—much like that of the accreditors—that an affiliated institution, like Saint John’s, offers a quality formation program through which the Angelicum can grant seminarians its own S.T.B. degree. The Angelicum receives its authority directly from the Holy See.
To share a few highlights of the findings from the recent comprehensive evaluation visit, the NECHE visiting team found that Saint John’s Seminary was “a highly mission conscious organization” with “solid planning instincts.” The Seminary’s formation programs were judged to be “vigorously mission-centered and effectively organized,” providing a “coherent and rigorous study of it’s academic subject matter.” The visiting team and Commission also provided helpful suggestions to Saint John’s by which the institution might continue to improve in the fulfillment of mission.
Saint John’s thanks all those who participated in the extensive work of this accreditation process, even in the midst of a pandemic: the Seminary’s Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, staff, seminarians and students. A special thanks must be given to those bishops and superiors of religious communities who send seminarians to Saint John’s and who participated in conversations with the NECHE visiting team. Finally, Saint John’s offers sincere thanks to members of the visiting team and the NECHE staff and members of the Commission for their encouragement, insights and collegial company.
By: Dr. Paul Metilly
Saint John’s Seminary