Diane Gottlieb writes open-hearted stories about people in pain who choose to grow.

Nuns and Nones–Intergenerational Connection to Celebrate

We are living in exciting times. Even with all the divisiveness and anger in the air, there is a quieter but no less powerful voice making itself heard. It’s a voice of connection, of trying new solutions to old problems—the voice of curiosity and experimentation.

The quiet also reflects a deep listening—to other’s experiences and points of view. An eagerness to learn, to grow, and to heal.

Melissa, my lovely daughter-in-law, sent me the link to an article yesterday. The article appeared in the NYTimes on May 31: “These Millennials Got New Roommates—They’re Nuns” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/31/style/milliennial-nuns-spiritual-quest.html

The title immediately piqued my interest.

Melissa thought it might be a good topic for a blog post. She was right.

The Number of Nuns in the United Stated Dropped by Approximately 75% between the Years of 1965 and 2016

The Catholic Church has had its share of public crises over the past few decades. One problem that has received little attention but still reflects a great change has been the dramatic drop in the numbers of women religious, or nuns, as they are colloquially called.  According to the Catholic News Service, the number of nuns in the United Stated dropped by approximately 75% between the years of 1965 and 2016 https://generationtogeneration.org/stories/nuns-nones/.

Most of the 50,000 remaining nuns in the U.S.—over 90% of them—are over 60 years of age https://www.nunsandnones.org/about.

Why is This Such a Problem?

Nuns, for many years, have been a strong force in promoting social justice. They have worked tirelessly to meet community and national needs of affordable housing, healthcare, and education. They’ve stood firm against immigrant, racial, and criminal injustice. (Sharon Richardson spoke about one such nun Sister Mary Nerny in our interview https://dianegottlieb.com/interview-with-sharon-richardson/.) Now that their numbers are dwindling, many are concerned about meeting the needs of the times and are looking to new modes and pathways that will sustain traditions of spiritual practice and social justice work and advocacy.

Forty Percent of Millennials, When Asked to Choose a Box Describing Their Religious Affiliations, Choose “None of the Above”

Many millennials are also facing a crisis—a spiritual crisis. Forty percent of millennials, when asked to choose a box describing their religious affiliations, choose “none of the above.” While such a large percentage of that generation does not identify with organized religion, many millennials are socially conscious activists, hungry for a spiritual connection—especially one with meaningful rituals.

Creative Solution: Nuns and Nones—an Organization that Brings These Two Groups Together!


Who introduced the idea of connecting nuns and millennial activists? A Jewish man—32-year-old Adam Horowitz. What began as a two-day gathering of a dozen or so millennials and another dozen nuns–with no agenda other than to talk, listen, and share meals–has morphed into an intergenerational movement of progressive, young activists joining with long-time social reformers, who happen to be nuns.

Five millennials, including Horowitz, just ended a six-month experiment in co-living. They moved in with the nuns at their convent, Mercy Center, located in Burlingame, CA.

All involved were changed by the experience.

“The Millennials Wanted a Road Map for Life and Ritual, Rather Than a Belief System.”

The millennials were eager to learn from the nuns. They saw the women as models, people whom they would like to emulate on several levels. The nuns were most surprised by the millennials’ interest in their vows. According to the Times article, “the millennials wanted a road map for life and ritual, rather than a belief system. On one of the first nights, Sister Judy Carle said one of the young people causally asked the sisters, ‘So what’s your spiritual practice?’”

She did not ask what Sister Carle believed. The nones were drawn more to the discipline of the vows and to the notion of sacrifice.

“Radical Badass Women”

Nuns live what Horowitz aspires to: “radical activist lives, lives of total devotion to their causes.”

Sarah Jane Bradley, another six-month resident of the convent described the nuns as “radical, badass women who have lived lives devoted to social justice. And,” she added, “we can learn from them.”

What a wonderful experiment indeed! Intergenerational collaborations are too few and far between. What these nuns and nones show us is how important and enriching those collaborations are for all involved and for the greater community and society.

Two Generations—One Calling

The nuns and nones came together and saw that they shared a calling. Now there are nuns and nones groups in about 14 cities around the country.

The website states it beautifully: “Based on decades of experience living in self-governing, resource-sharing, women-led, ‘counter cultural’ communities of contemplation and action, sisters have a wealth of wisdom to share with a younger generation setting out to serve and heal in a fractured world. Amidst the social and environmental crises of our times, we are hearing a common call to incubate new forms of community rooted in love and committed to justice.”

Love and justice. Nuns and nones. Two generations. One calling. Inspiration for us all.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And this week, I have a special request—for Melissa. Here’s a text she sent me when we were discussing the article: “I’m always searching for wisdom from older people. Older family members, coworkers, friends, mentors. And I love to hang on to bits of advice.” Melissa wondered if I would ask you, my readers, “What lesson would you pass on to someone younger?”

I love the question and look forward to your answers. Please post a comment or send me an email.

Have a wonderful week!

See you next Friday!



  1. Nicky Mendenhall on June 15, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    Diane – what a wonderful post! I love the responses you have already received – know when to leave and forgiveness. I read the Times article in the paper and wanted to know what others thought of it. Then read a post by a young man who investigates ancient religions and how they can be valid today. I can’t remember his name nor the blog right now – but he was intrigued too.

    What came to me first as advice I’d give to my younger self (or a young person) was: FORGET about your hair! Nobody cares! This was brought home to me by my analyst who spends virtually no time (at least it appears that way to me) on her hair and is so commuted to doing her job that it doesn’t matter!

    Thanks again for a thought provoking post!

    • Diane Gottlieb on June 15, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      Thanks Nicky–and love your advice! We are on the same page regarding hair. I’m actually doing a post in a few weeks about going grey!

  2. Sherry Danner on June 14, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks, Diane! This made me think about that haunting show on Netflix called, “The Keepers” which is about several older women who loved a young nun who died and they investigate her murder. Awesome show on many levels, though difficult to watch.

    My advice comes from my experience as a therapist in a church for 7 years. I encountered so many people who were angry with their former churches. It seemed to me that many times they stayed with a place longer than they truly felt that it was a fit, waiting for the final straw so they could justify leaving. My bit of wisdom: Wherever you join in life, go all in – invest, connect, participate. But know that it is OK to move forward when the time is right. Learning how to end well is a skill that is not taught in a culture that emphasizes commitment. Commitment and loyalty are awesome values, but they can be turned against you sometimes, too. Learn to leave without undue guilt rather than stay out of fear or obligation, then you will know that wherever you are is truly where you choose to be.

    • Diane Gottlieb on June 14, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Sherry! What great advice! We aren’t really taught how to “end well” in our culture–or that leaving can sometime be the best option. Love this:”Wherever you join in life, go all in – invest, connect, participate. But know that it is OK to move forward when the time is right.”

  3. Sally Anderson on June 14, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you for posting

    • Diane Gottlieb on June 14, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks, Sally!

  4. Greta Holt on June 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Wonderful concept! Right now, it seems as if everyone in the U.S. is struggling with religion. Social justice should be the outcome of religion, but often it is not.

    I might tell younger people to forgive themselves and others as quickly as they are able, and to accept that we are simply animals with larger brains than most. We’re not ‘all that,’ no matter how expansive our ideas.

    Anything we can do to make life better for others is a precious gift. If we are giving that gift, any way we can, we should give ourselves a star and stop beating ourselves about the head!

    • Diane Gottlieb on June 14, 2019 at 1:07 pm

      Greta–what wonderful and wise advice! Forgiveness and “giveness.” (I may have just made up a word but I think it works.)

      And, I absolutely LOVE “We’re not ‘all that,’ no matter how expansive our ideas.”

      Thanks so much for sharing!

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