About Sister Clorinda

A Call to God Through the Arts

BY Lisa Bedotto Laughlin

Born in a castle to a Swiss father and Scottish mother, Clorinda von Stockalper found her way to the Carmel of Reno after traveling Europe in pursuit of a musical career. She did not take the direct route to consecrated religious life – she came via Switzerland, England, Milan, New York City and Indiana. Though born in Switzerland, she grew up in England with her two sisters.

“We moved back to Switzerland when I was about 17, and I went to a Catholic school run by the French Sisters of St. Clotilde. Those nuns were wonderful, and even then I felt something stirring within,” says Sister Cloe.

Nonetheless, it was clear Sister was a talented musician, having passed all her graded music exams in England, so she pursued a professional degree in music at the Sion Conservatory. Her plans to pursue a master’s degree in performance were sidelined when a brilliant young pianist from Uruguay convinced her to study privately in Milan under a highly regarded Hungarian instructor.

“There is mystery, and parallel stories are going on when God is calling someone: there is what is happening on the exterior of your life and what is happening on the interior. God calls and leads every person in a different way.”

Sister Clorinda von Stockalper

“It was very difficult when I was trying to discern what to do with my life. I loved music, and I felt this was what God was calling me to. But, at the same time, I felt this pull towards something more devoted to God.” Somehow, Sister Cloe sensed both her search for God and music were two sides of the same call. But how?

“At that time, young and idealistic, I went through this yearning stage and decided to read about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, but I accidentally bought the complete works of St. Teresa of Avila instead.” After reading the works, Sister Cloe became fascinated by St. Teresa of Avila … the ways she looked at life, her passion and her enthusiasm, her amazing relationship to God. But could Sister follow two different calls simultaneously? Upon returning to Switzerland in her early 20s, Sister Cloe earned a living by starting a concert career and playing piano at her mother’s ballet school.

“My mother was a wonderful dancer in her youth. When she opened her own school, I played piano for her.”

Soon after, Sister Cloe moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where she took ballet classes and continued to play at ballet schools and teach private lessons. Here, she met an American ballerina from the New York City Ballet and a principal dancer with the Geneva Opera Ballet. This dancer convinced Sister Cloe to move to New York City with her. “I began playing piano in the ballet studio where I danced, but ended up playing for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company.”

It turns out that one of the dancers from the Met was studying at the school where Sister Cloe was the playing, and she recommended the Met hire Sister. Sister Cloe’s career blossomed as she played for the Met, American Ballet Theater, and the Joffrey Ballet. At times, she played for famous dancers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova. “At the time I was perfectly happy pursuing what was really so life-giving for me,” she says.

A Second Call: The Turning Point

Quite unexpectedly, Sister decided to attend a series of talks in New York City on the spiritual journey, which stirred her yearnings again. She then made a retreat with some sisters in New York and came away knowing she had to dig deeper. “I knew early on that if I chose the consecrated life, it would be with the Carmelites. I knew that I wanted to BE for God, not only DO for God. I wanted that life of prayer that faith tells us can mysteriously reach the world and all its needs.”

Coming into her early 30s, Sister realized that she was ready to leave the highly competitive dance world behind her. At the time, she was looking for a contemplative order of Carmelites who wore habits and lived an orthodox life. After researching several communities, she joined the Carmelites of Terre Haute, Ind., where she remained for nearly 20 years. “My mother was devastated when I went home and told her, although she had intuited my attraction for a long time,” says Sister Cloe. “Everyone had predicted I would have this wonderful career as a pianist, so this was such a disappointment for her.”

While at Terre Haute, Sister Cloe began reading more contemporary theologians with a widening insight into the nature of religious life and growth in the spirit. She was very much affected by this reading, as she seemed to find there an echo of her own emerging inner truth. As providence would have it, and following a difficult discernment, she was led to a community with a more contemporary vision of the Carmelite charism, something more in touch with the world in which they were living.

Using Musical Talents in Service of God

“I wanted to continue a contemplative life that could reach out to people in a more concrete way and at the same time still BE for God,” she says. Sister Cloe has been thriving since joining the Carmel of Reno in 2004. “These are women of vision and deep prayer besides being so gifted in drawing, art, and music. We musicians were playing together for the liturgy and giving benefit Christmas concerts, and that is how the idea of making our CDs came into being. Finding the music pretty demanding, I felt I needed someone to help me regain some measure of proficiency, so I asked the community if I could begin lessons again.”

With community approval, Sister has been studying with Dr. James Winn, director of keyboard studies at the University of Nevada. “It’s as if a somewhat dormant flame has rekindled within my soul again, it’s also a prayer flame,” says Sister. In some ways, the community’s decision to sell CDs has led Sister Cloe more fully back to music. Sister’s story is a reminder that the call to religious life is not always a straight path.

“There is mystery, and parallel stories are going on when God is calling someone: there is what is happening on the exterior of your life and what is happening on the interior. God calls and leads every person in a different way,” Sister says. From across the world to across the country, from performing artist to Carmelite, from Carmelite of Terre Haute to Carmelite of Reno, Sister Cloe’s journey illustrates that God’s call may not be without unexpected avenues along the way. But all paths contribute toward making a person complete, and if you listen and trust, He will surely guide you.