By Catherine Terelak

In recent days, the Internet has exploded with “convent vibes” and “nuncore.” Fans of Sister Act (1992) and The Sound of Music (1965) have always known how fun it is to be a nun, but the rest of the world is only just receiving the revelation. Silly white hats, cool black outfits, harmonies, melodies, and all kinds of sisterly shenanigans are cloistered in a new corner of TikTok that users are calling NunTok. 

The tenets of NunTok are generally innocent enough—practicing discalcing, praying seven times a day, abstaining from the meat of four-legged animals—but there have been concerning reports of the Monastic Challenge, during which the young postulants of NunTok take a vow of silence and shun worldly society. In most cases, the Monastic Challenge ends fairly quickly. But increasingly often, the trend manifests in prolonged isolation and severe self-flagellatory behavior. 

Concerned parent Crystal Collector can attest: “My daughter, who is now going by the name Sister Esmerelda, sealed up her bedroom door on the Feast of St. Francis and has not emerged since. Last week, the FedEx man said he delivered her a hairshirt, a bed of nails, a medieval bone stretcher, and enough wood to build a working cross. For weeks now, I’ve heard nothing from her but whispers of the Rosary. I try to make her eat every day, but I’m afraid I might have a St. Catherine of Siena situation on my hands.” 

Despite fears surrounding the Monastic Challenge, it is important not to unduly stigmatize NunTok. Renowned child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Seculara Smith, author of the recent parenting book How to Solve a Problem Like Maria, believes that NunTok provides an outlet for a normal and healthy phase of development. “Nine times out of ten,” she says, “girls caught up in NunTok were raised by yoga instructors, anti-gluten activists, and kombucha fermenters. For this particular demographic, a reversion to the penitential traditions of the Church constitutes a potent form of teenage rebellion. By dragging their daughters to a Latin Mass or reminding them of anything real Catholics actually believe, parents can mitigate the effects of NunTok before their daughters try the Monastic Challenge.”

Like many quirky little liberal arts colleges, Grinnell is grappling with the fact that a projected 15% of the Class of 2028 will have the words “nuncore” and/or “convent vibes” in their bios. One of the main proposals to support the burgeoning NunTok community is a unilateral shift to more nun-centric language. All Grinnell students will soon be require to take EverFi courses on “Grinclusivity,” designed to create a welcoming atmosphere for these incoming students. For example, instead of “I pulled an all-nighter,” students should say, “I prayed the Midnight Office.” Rather than “I got so fucking wasted,” students should say, “I overindulged in the fruits of the vine.” 

To discourage on-campus incidence of the Monastic Challenge, Grinnell is putting in place proactive harm-reduction strategies. One such strategy is the Gronvent, or the Grinnell Convent, a new affinity house that aims to keep the nun-aligned engaged in the wider community and distracted from their self-imposed mission of unifying with the mysterious suffering of Jesus Christ. As Grinnell College’s first-ever Nuns-in-Residence, Whoopi Goldberg and Julie Andrews promise to prevent the Gronvent from becoming a petri dish of female religious hysteria. In an interview with the B&S, the pair confirmed that being a nun is all about singing, dancing, joking around, and playing mischievous pranks. “Silence and prayer have no place in the Gronvent,” Andrews said, strumming her acoustic guitar. 

In a recent letter announcing the Gronvent, President Anne Harris said, “By showing these girls examples of pseudo-nuns who live silly and goofy lives, I believe we can compel them to put down the cross and pick up the tambourine.”