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Pontifical College Josephinum seminary must address issues or lose accreditation

 The campus in Worthington, trains and ordains Catholic priests. It's mostly closed to the public, save for tours or events. The library is accessible, but people have to call first.
Pontifical College Josephinum, Director of communications Carolyn Divono
The campus in Worthington, trains and ordains Catholic priests. It's mostly closed to the public, save for tours or events. The library is accessible, but people have to call first.

The Pontifical College Josephinum on Columbus’ north side is the Vatican’s only seminary in the U.S. But it could lose its two accreditations if it doesn’t address a series of problems.

The issues stem from internal operations, recruitment and degree program language.

The seminary offers undergraduate and graduate programs, where qualified students can become Catholic priests. It started in downtown Columbus in 1888 and moved to the city's north side on U.S. Route 23 in 1931.

The 100-acre property surrounded by luscious trees and sprawling fields also includes a library, church and several academic buildings. The library is open to the public, but visitors must call first before arriving on the campus.

Aerial photo of the Pontifical College Josephinum
Steven Helmrich/Steven Helmrich
Aerial photo of the Pontifical College Josephinum

The college is accredited by two institutions. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which put Josephinum’s accreditation on probation in June, as well as the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

Stephen Graham, the director of accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools, said they renewed Josephinum’s credit for seven years, but issued a warning related to future planning and enrollment.

“A warning is less serious than probation," Graham said. "If the school doesn’t respond to the things in the warning, then they are subject to probation by ATS as well.”

Graham said that the other accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, notified ATS that it had taken the next step by putting the Josephinum on probation.

“It’s a bit more severe action than ATS took," he said. "I was a little surprised but I understand. I’ve read their report and the issues that they named. Some of the other issues are similar to the ones named by ATS.”

The Higher Learning Commission declined to be interviewed for this story, but its action letter from June 30 identified several actions that fail to meet certain criteria. They include

  • There’s some unclear learning goals between the masters and certification programs
  • Issues with renewal of its strategic plans
  • Resources for aspiring priests and enrollment

The HLC said, that “the institution continues to rely on unrealistic assumptions about recruiting goals and fundraising as ways to fill enrollment and budget shortfalls.”

It also said that its director of human resources leads Title IX investigations. HLC said the dual assignment “potentially inhibits the effective administration of the complaint process.”

The Pontifical College Joesphinum declined to interview for this story and instead sent a statement from the rector and president of the seminary, Steven P. Beseau.

Besaeu said that many of the issues identified by the Higher Learning Commission and the Association of Theological Schools surfaced through an “extensive self-study process.”

The seminary plans to release its new strategic plan in the coming months which includes better resources and learning structures for future priests and deacons.

He said staff, faculty and admin also have begun to incorporate “new governing documents” at the institution.

Graham with the Association of Theological Schools and the seminary confirmed that it’s already addressed some of its issues.

“There was a degree program that wasn’t accredited by HLC but was accredited by ATS and that has since been addressed,” he said.

As for the other unmet criteria, he expects the seminary to follow through.

“A warning is a serious thing," Graham said. "And they’re taking it seriously. We’re confident that they’ll be able to do the things they need to do to have the warning removed.”

The Higher Learning Commission will decide if the seminary can keep its accreditation in November 2023.

Copyright 2022 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.

Tyler Thompson