She wanted two children. He wanted 12.

For the next few years, Bellesorte dated other women, as the vision of a large family stayed with him.

After moving to San Francisco, however, he felt a calling and joined a community of Dominican friars. As a result, he was moved to become a priest and lead a parish in nearby Benecia.

But the experiences with the Dominican community stayed with him. “It rang a bell with me,” he said.

In 1972 a friend introduced him to the Abbey of New Clairvaux. “I followed my heart,” said Bellesorte.

That path took him to Vina, where he has—after a lifetime of searching—found that large family, though it’s a family made up entirely of brothers.

“I love my life,” said Bellesorte, holding back tears. “I love my God. And I love my family. I’m totally fulfilled.”

While Father Anthony Bellesorte is confident where his spirit will ascend, he also knows that his human remains will stay at New Clairvaux. The monks have their own cemetery inside the cloister. A monk’s funeral is open to the public, offering one of the few times laymen get a glimpse inside the monk’s cloistered grounds.

As a community, the monks are financially successful in their business ventures. Like much of the rest of the residents of the North State, the monks support themselves through agriculture. They grow prunes and walnuts on the land once owned by legendary explorer and trail guide Peter Lassen and later by Leland Stanford, the railroad baron who founded Stanford University. The vineyard also produces and bottles, on site, wine under the monastery’s own label.

The Sacred Stones project, a reconstruction of a 12th-century chapter house using stones from a Spanish monastery, is generating local, regional and national acclaim. (The monks recently announced their decision to use the chapter house as their church.) And the monastery’s collaboration with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., bringing centuries-old monastic brewing traditions to America, was recently featured in The Financial Times and has been well-received by consumers and critics.

All of this has brought enormous attention to the Abbey of New Clairvaux.

With spring now in full swing, the Sacred Stones office will handle more than a dozen group tours per month. And drop-ins account for thousands of visitors annually.

And more will come.

Newspaper and television stories, features by PBS and ABC News and inquiries from the Tehama County Visitors Bureau—add it all up, and suddenly the very private life of a monk is becoming less so.

So is the interest in these men’s lives warranted? It depends on whom you ask.

“Not anymore,” said Brother Cortez. “After two years here, the life is no longer as romantic as it once seemed. I forget that this is not ‘normal’ living.”

But of course a monk’s life is not normal. It runs contrary to the American Dream (see sidebar), which is what leads visitors to ask the monks—sometimes not so subtly—to come out from behind the cloister and visit with them.

As New Clairvaux becomes one of the most significant tourist destinations in the North State, new visitors will come. And they’ll want to know why someone would want to live a monk’s life.