Just because religious affiliation continues to dwindle in America does not mean that the number of people desiring a more environmentally friendly and socially progressive country is likewise declining. Enter Nuns and Nones, a nationwide organization whose mission is to bring millennials together with Catholic nuns for the purpose of learning from each other how to better go about supporting social causes.
The millennials of Nuns and Nones are the 40% of young people, both men and women, born roughly between 1980 and 2001, who consistently check the “None of the Above” box when asked to declare their religious affiliation. The nuns are Catholic religious sisters living in community. For the uninitiated, a true Catholic nun is a woman who belongs to an Order of religious Catholic women dedicated to living a cloistered life. Sisters, on the other hand, belong to one of the numerous other Orders and usually live in community in a small group in a house or large apartment virtually anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, however, 90% of the 50,000 of these women in the US have already attained the age of 60 or above.
Nuns and Nones seeks to bring together millennials of any and all religious persuasions (or none at all) who possess fresh ideas with the experienced and dedicated Catholic sisters so as to brainstorm and address new approaches to pressing issues:
- Health care
- Racial justice
- Affordable housing
- Immigrant justice
- Climate resilience
Quid Pro Quo
Millennials who participated in the first communal housing experience of Nuns and Nones say they gained a “life-changing amount of guidance and wisdom from the sisters.” The sisters, in return, report being “inspired by the fresh ideas, creativity, and insight offered to [us] by [our] younger counterparts.”
This pilot program ran from November 2018 through May 2019 when a Sisters of Mercy group in Burlingame, California, invited five millennial activists, educators, and organizers to live in community with them for six months. During this intense albeit joyful time, all participants engaged in shared learning and relationship-building activities. Many participants from both groups likened the whole experience to “finding soulmates.”
Admittedly, financial considerations entered into the picture. The sisters received additional income from the millennials, plus additional help in caring for their elderly sisters. Conversely, the millennials received long-term low-cost housing. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, most of them denied that their motivation for participating in the pilot program had anything to do with money. Instead, they listed such motivations as the desire to experience a unique form of communal living that would allow them to make friends they otherwise would have no opportunity to even meet, let alone come to know. Or as one millennial participant declared at the end of the program, “When you bring in someone from another stage of life, the room just opens up and it’s a different conversation and there are different ways to learn.”
Going forward, Nuns and Nones is searching for additional communities of value-aligned women who would be willing to invite four to eight millennials into their community for a three- to nine-month learning residency. The program envisions these residencies as doing the following:
- Creating hubs for learning, contemplation, and action
- Creating significant time for listening, discerning, and learning
- Inviting like-hearted allies to share in visits and/or small gatherings
In the meantime, Nuns and Nones has established local chapters in the following US cities:
- San Francisco, CA
- Washington, D.C.
- Chicago, IL
- Minneapolis, IN
- Boston, MA
- Grand Rapids, MI
- St. Louis, MO
- Cincinnati, OH
- Philadelphia, PA
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Seattle, WA
- Madison, WI
In addition, Nuns and Nones hosts gatherings and online videos, as well as features a section of reflections by pilot program participants and a blog on its website.