Millennial Catholic Interviews: Anna Gordon

Anna Gordon is the program director for the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. Editor Robert Christian interviewed her on her faith, work, and what it takes to reach young Catholics.

What are the goals of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life?
The Initiative has three goals: to promote dialogue on Catholic social thought and national and global issues; build bridges across political, religious, and ideological lines; and encourage a new generation of Catholic lay leaders to see their faith as an asset in pursuing the common good. A defining element of our work is a commitment to recognizing and lifting up the leadership of the laity, especially among women and people of color.

What are the challenges when it comes to reaching Gen Z and Millennials? Can anything be done to break through or are the headwinds too strong?
I think it’s important to meet people where they are and to be authentic. For the young adults we’ve met through the Initiative’s Salt and Light and Latino Leader Gatherings, they’re looking for community and authentic conversations where they can wrestle with their faith, lives, and work. The happy hours and receptions don’t hurt either! We try our best to shape our gatherings around Catholic social thought and public life on what we’ve heard from Gen Z and Millennial Catholics: what topics are they interested in? How can we bring different perspectives into one room to have real dialogue that challenges and engages everyone in the room?

Why did you decide that you wanted to get involved in this type of work?
It never really felt like a decision! Faith and politics were regular topics of conversation at our dinner table growing up. I never imagined working outside of the Catholic Church. Growing up, my dad worked at the USCCB as the Director of Diocesan Relations for the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. When I was in high school, he founded Catholic Climate Covenant and since then has been working to mobilize US Catholics to dialogue and act on climate change. I was (and continue to be) so inspired by my dad and knew I wanted to be a part of this work at the intersection of Catholic social teaching and public life.

I’m grateful to have landed at Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life where I have the most incredible colleagues who I learn from every day. Even though I grew up around this stuff, I still struggle to ensure my faith influences my politics rather than the other way around. I think we, as the Catholic Church, need to be better about sharing and discussing Catholic teaching and its role in the public square. And I think the Initiative is playing a big role in tackling this here in the US and beyond.

How does your faith shape your life beyond work?
I try to make time for prayer every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. I always feel like I’m channeling Dorothy Day when I sit down with my morning coffee and daily prayer book. I love that she said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.” My husband is the music director for the Sunday community at St. John’s University, and I’m a part of the choir and serve as a cantor.

I listen to some Catholic podcasts when I’m walking around my neighborhood or doing the dishes, and I try to keep up with the latest Catholic news (yes, I’ve been known to scroll through #CatholicTwitter). I’ve also always felt really connected to God when I unplug and spend time away from the city in nature, like hiking and kayaking.

Why are you Catholic in 2023?
I’m Catholic today because I have faith. I believe in the Trinity, the sacraments, and the Gospels. I believe Catholic social teaching is the best framework to heal our social wounds. And I think any person of faith would say that relationships are what keep their faith strong. Being attentive and responsive to my relationships with God, my husband, family, faith community, friends, and colleagues helps those connections grow and strengthen. I’d also say Pope Francis is a big part of why I’m Catholic. He’s reinvigorated my faith in the institutional Church and challenges me through his powerful actions and words. Unfortunately I don’t have a personal relationship with him—yet!

It’s really exciting to see how young Catholics are transforming and leading, both in the Church and in other spheres like politics, the arts, science, business, tech, education, etc. It gives me hope that Catholic social teaching can become more widely known and help respond to challenges like the mental health crisis and racial injustice.