The religious vocation is a very practical vocation. It recognizes the need for each to do his own work in the Mystical Body of Christ as he seeks heaven for himself. So, the Church has religious orders set aside for all different vocations. Some serve the poor, some work on farms, some study and counsel, some serve Catholic communities directly as pastors and teachers, and others strengthen the Church through prayer. In fact, the religious orders are perhaps the most reasonable part of Catholicism from a worldly point of view!
The contemplative's lifestyle is designed to give her an unconditional opportunity to pursue heaven by a very direct path and to bring others to heaven also. The structured prayer, scheduled work times, and other disciplines are essential to her doing this successfully. Monasteries are not only "heaven orientated," but also very human and very intimately involved with humanity's joys and sorrows.
St. Francis was probably the most paradoxical person in the history of mankind. His immense dream was both absolutely practical and absolutely impractical. For instance, Christ gave us the beatitudes to show us how to live perfect human lives and become saints... well, Francis brought the beatitudes to life. Selling all possessions, living in absolute poverty, working hard for people who could not pay them back, paying no attention to human praise and orientated completely on pleasing God... well, you can't follow the beatitudes any more completely than that. Likewise, St. Francis' efforts to follow in Christ's footsteps and put prayer at the center of everything was equally spiritually practical. However, giving up all possessions and living in absolute poverty? Working hard and never making/saving money, relying on Divine Providence for the very necessities? This is totally impractical by worldly standards.
Therefore, the religious orders of the Church are indeed very practical institutions. Some live the very radical, absolute, and paradoxical practicality of St. Francis and St. Clare which is directed at yielding spiritual fruits and following in Christ's footsteps very literally... others live the practical lifestyles directed at caring for the sick, teaching, etc. It is possible to be both spiritually and materially practical, and that is what the religious orders achieve. The Church stands on them as on so many pillars of stone, and through them rise fruits that keep the Church flourishing for all its members. Through these institutions families are cared for, children raised, wisdom spread, poor fed, sick healed, and nations kept together in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.