Now, they get their help to find themselves…and the Sacred.

Not that I ever heard one of them seeing it from this point of view… and thanking for it – but maybe the day comes.

Across the country, Catholic monasteries and convents, usually regarded as strange or the stuff of medieval myth, are besieged with would-be retreatants and booked months in advance. “Please don’t mention our name,” begs an abbot at a Vermont monastery where the wait for one of its 29 spaces stretches a year. “We’re overwhelmed.” There is even a popular guidebook, Sanctuaries, that helps readers choose a great monastery or convent. While organized church retreats are not new, what is startling is that much of the increase is in individual retreatants, including many Protestants and even non-Christians, who say the Catholic monasteries, with their ancient chants, beautiful grounds and prices at a pittance, offer the most refreshing vacation going. Now, say the monks, if only they could keep the growing horde down to the true spiritual seekers, not just vacationers at Club God.

Why the interest in these sanctuaries, amid a pop culture in which nuns and monks are usually depicted as demanding and dry or who, in their softest incarnations, wonder, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”? Theories vary, but one reason is poet and novelist Kathleen Norris. She first hit the best-seller list in 1993 with Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, a meditation on the farm crisis, religion and the wind-whipped Plains state of North Dakota. That was followed in 1996 by The Cloister Walk, a log of the nine months that Norris, a married Protestant, spent living among the monks at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. Readers went wild, keeping it on the best-seller list for 27 weeks.,9171,988826,00.html