- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

It comes on suddenly but quietly. Jette Clausen starts to weep just a bit, talking about her weekend stay at Holy Cross Abbey near Berryville, Va. It has helped her step out of life, slow down and work on "grief issues."
"I'm an oncology nurse. I work with dying people," she says, removing her glasses and wiping her eyes. "So you're strong during the day and then you have to let go … "
This is the Bethesda resident's first weekend retreat at this monastery, run by monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (Trappists). Located 60 miles west of Washington, the abbey offers a specially built, 16-room guest house for "retreatants," lay visitors who spend the weekend or a week meditating, reading or walking among rolling fields surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Holy Cross is one of two monasteries in the Washington area that hold out to lay people the prospect of a step back from the madding crowd. Here or at St. Anselm's Abbey in the District, run by monks of the Benedictine order visitors can be quiet for a few days, and take a spiritual break from busy, media-drenched lives. Guest rooms and meals at both monasteries are simple. Daily services take place in the monastery chapels. Although both monasteries are Catholic, the retreats stress the spiritual, not the religious.
"You can't bottle what we have in quiet," say the Rev. Hilary Hayden, guest master at St. Anselm's, which sits on 40 acres in Northeast. "It's a rare commodity nowadays in ordinary society. You don't have to watch television, you don't have to answer the telephone. You just sort of soak and live the way we do for a while."

The way they live at St. Anselm's is by the rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, a 6th-century monk considered the patriarch of Western monasticism. His regimen prescribes a life of prayer, meditation and work rooted unlike that of more "worldly" religious orders such as the Jesuits and Dominicans in the monastery.
The rule is the same at Holy Cross, that of St. Benedict; Cistercians, who trace their lineage to the Abbey of Citeaux in Burgundy, where the Order began in the year 1098, are Benedictines who focus more intently on St. Benedict's injunction to live "by the labor of their hands." Trappists, the inheritors of a tradition begun in the 17th century at the monastery of La Trappe, in Normandy, lead lives of even greater austerity and seclusion.
Retreats at either St. Anselm's or Holy Cross let one burrow inside the life or at least the lifestyle of a Benedictine monk. Silence is no longer required, but still encouraged.
Retreatants come for any number of reasons. For a man in a bulky red coat, for example, the hospitality of the retreat house at Holy Cross Abbey has proved indispensable. Wearing dark tennis shoes, Ross who asks that his last name not be used had just quit his job, left his home in Fairfax the night before, and headed down Route 50, looking for a hotel. In what he called a state of shock, Ross eventually wound up on Leesburg Pike, meandering down the winding road that leads to Holy Cross Abbey. The California native had been to the abbey twice before.
"I felt at home here, more than any other place in the world," he says. "As much as I've screwed up, this is one place I can come and be accepted. You don't get preached at."
Ross lumbered into the monastery grounds at 11 p.m., but he didn't want to bother Brother Stephen Maguire, the guest master. So Ross slept in his car that night in the parking lot of the abbey's gift shop and information center. The next morning, he approached Brother Maguire.
"I asked him, 'Can I stay for the night?' " Ross, 54, says. " 'I'm cold, hungry and need a place to lie down.' "
Ross stayed for the night. People like that man, says Brother Benedict Simmons, 64, is why Holy Cross usually leaves one room open for last-minute emergencies.
Curiosity, not need, brought Susan Mosley out to Holy Cross eight years ago from Leesburg. She sits in the retreat house next to a red-brick fireplace, which has a huge unlit candle in it; the place is still decorated for Christmas. Mrs. Mosley, 48, says "every retreat is different. I don't even know how to describe it."
"It is just forcing yourself to slow down which is harder than you think and just really experiencing every minute that you're in, and trying to turn off worrying about the shopping list, work and family."
Monks in both abbeys, however, discourage the use of guest houses as a one-night vacation stop. Although Holy Cross has specific times for their weekday and weekend retreats, retreatants are allowed to do whatever they wish with their time. St. Anselm's is a bit more flexible: Father Hayden says retreatants stay one to three days at St. Anselm's.

It is noon, and Brother Maguire steps into the lobby of the retreat house, wearing his white monk's robe and black scapular. After ringing a handbell, Brother Maguire, 73, ushers the retreatants into noontime dinner. It's buffet style, with clattering plates and banging silverware. The menu is beef and macaroni, broccoli, corn and pineapple upside-down cake. As at St. Anselm's, the diners eat in silence as Brother Maguire reads spiritual works to them or plays music. Tall, lanky with a goatee and a lined face, Brother Maguire speaks softly and slowly, with a subtle wit.
"We don't run a directed retreat," he says in his rough voice. "I'm not like a monitor or sergeant-at-arms who goes around with my finger on my lips, indicating silence.
"After somebody has run into town and bought a newspaper, it's hard to scold them after the fact," says Brother Maguire, who has been guest master for 15 years. "If they'd asked ahead of time, we would say, 'We don't ordinarily do that. Check out the library.' "
On the lobby wall is a sign: "Smoking outdoors only (includes pipes and incense)." Another sign indicates the suggested donation for staying at Holy Cross: $75 to $100 per weekend, $100-$200 per week on weekdays.
Sometimes the retreat house is filled months in advance. Last year, it had a 92 percent occupancy rate. People returned so often that the monks limited retreatants to returning every six months.
"If we built another wing that size," says the Rev. Edward McCorkell, "it would be filled the same all of the time. That's how much demand there is among the laity."

After lunch, guests wash their own dishes. Some make an appointment with Father McCorkell, 76, who offers the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) on weekends; another monk counsels people during the week. Balding, with glasses and a musical baritone voice, Father McCorkell acts as a sounding board for anyone with a problem, though he says he mostly gets married couples.
"It's been an enriching experience for me," he says, "because I have been exposed to so many men and women, to see that side of human life which one normally wouldn't be exposed to in a monastery."
Sometimes guests just wander off, some down to a large meditation chapel at the end of the hall. The room is two stories high, with enormous windows that look out on the countryside.
Holy Cross supports itself in part by sales of its increasingly renowned 2?-pound fruitcake, so celebrated by media of all sorts that it has its own Web site (www.monasteryfruitcake.org). Laden with nuts, cherries and pineapple and doused with sherry and brandy, the cake sells for $25. Last year the abbey sold 22,800 loaves; at Christmas it was sold out two weeks before the holiday and will not have any more available until the end of March.
At the gift shop entrance, a sign reads "Fruitcakes are sold out" below one saying "Lord, let me be an instrument of your peace."

Holy Cross Abbey is one of 12 Cistercian monasteries for men and five monasteries for women in the United States. Holy Cross owns 1,200 acres here. To the east is the icy, shallow Shenandoah River. A golf course is on the other side of the river. ("Golf is a quiet game, so we're very happy to have them as neighbors," says Father McCorkell.) The setting outside is quiet, too, punctuated occasionally by a faint moo of a cow.
A farmer leases all but 25 acres from the abbey. The grounds are dotted with shrubbery. The 23 brothers live in a series of connected, powder-blue buildings with black shutters. A sign on the side of the house reads, "Monastic Enclosure Private." Just beyond are two rows of 15 wooden crosses with peeling white paint and metal nameplates, gentle reminders of monks who have died there.
One of the buildings is the monastery. Holy Cross holds six services here a day. The first are vigils at 3:30 a.m., which Ms. Clausen describes as "beautiful."
"You are a tired body and want to be in bed," she says in her Danish accent. "You're walking up that cold walk up there and step into this quiet, peaceful place. Listen to the beautiful prayers.
"Your head is so much asleep [that] you listen with your heart."

St. Anselm's holds five services a day, the first at 5:20 a.m. weekdays and 6:20 a.m. weekends. The approach to this monastery differs somewhat from Holy Cross Abbey. To reach St. Anselm's one snakes through the noise of South Dakota Avenue in Northeast. Opened in 1930, the monastery and chapel sit on a hill overlooking the busy street. Visitors drive through a small stone gate into another, gentler world.
St. Anselm's is best known for its private boys' prep school for 255 students in grades 6 through 12. In fact, the school raised more than $6.3 million for a just-completed building that will include a gymnasium and cafeteria; Phase II will focus on converting the old gym to a theater-performing arts center. Many of the monastery's 17 monks teach there, as well as at nearby Catholic University. (One monk chairs the theology department at the university.) Others work in monastery upkeep or help out on weekends at local parishes.
Father Hayden, 72, once taught Greek and Latin at St. Anselm's. With a swept-back mane of white hair and large glasses, Father Hayden strides across the monastery's tile floors with command (despite a hip replacement), the black scapular of his black robe waving a bit.
"People like to come and share our life for a few days and find it a spiritual oasis," says Father Hayden. "It's a pretty busy oasis."

Similarities between the two retreat houses remain. The stillness at both is overwhelming, and you can always count on someone to tell you to shut your yap.
"We try to keep our voices down," Father Hayden whispers with a laugh, trudging upstairs to look at the guest rooms. Only one of the nine rooms is occupied, but the abbey has about 20 to 30 retreat guests per month, Father Hayden says.
The room charge is low: $20 a day. Surrounded by concrete walls, the rooms are simple: two chairs, a bed with a striped cover, and a desk. Downstairs, the guests take meals with the monks in the dining room, an echo-filled chamber with wooden tables that ring the room. Holy Cross has a similar layout, though the dining area and several rooms are on the same floor.
At St. Anselm's, guests dine with monks since the guest house is part of the monastery. Thus, the tradition is that a woman does not eat in the monastic dining room. ("It's the medieval custom, I guess, of separation of sexes," Father Hayden says candidly, waving his hands.) She would have her meal brought to her in a separate parlor.
"A woman retreatant is allowed to have a sponsor," says Father Hayden, "because the sponsor would have to take care of some of the meals. It's harder for a woman to get in a retreat because there's nobody around to feed them."
Guests at Holy Cross do not dine with the monks since the guest house is down the road from the monastery. That's fine for Mrs. Mosley, who teaches seventh and eighth graders and needs all the quiet time she can get.
The mother of one son, Mrs. Mosley says her husband made her retreat reservation this time.
"When things get too frenetic he'll say, 'Dear, you need a weekend out at the abbey,' " she says.

WHAT: St. Anselm's Abbey
WHERE: 4501 South Dakota Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20017
WHEN: Chapel open daily. Mass 7:20 a.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. Sunday. Retreats by arrangement with the guestmaster.
INFORMATION: www.stanselms.org or 202/269-2300

WHAT: Holy Cross Abbey
WHERE: 901 Cool Spring Lane, Berryville, Va., 22611
WHEN: By reservation only: Weekday retreats 5 p.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Friday. Weekend retreats 5 p.m. Friday to 2 p.m. Sunday. Gift Shop 8:30 a.m.-noon and 1:15 p.m.-5 p.m. daily.
INFORMATION: www.holycrossabbeybrryvlle.org or 540/955-1425 or 540/955-3124

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