Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd, a Red Bank native, is on an international mission to help children orphaned by AIDS and living in households headed by children.
“Every 14 seconds a new child-headed household is formed,” said Lloyd, a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini, at the Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown. “We have children as young as 6 years old as the head of the household with younger siblings. Our mission is to keep them together as a family, educate the children and try to provide a future for them.”
Lloyd grew up in Little Silver, attended Red Bank Catholic High School for three years and spent her senior year at Villa Victoria Academy, Trenton, which was staffed by the Filippini nuns. At 18 years of age, she entered the convent and became a science and physics teacher.
“I really loved being at Red Bank Catholic,” Lloyd said. “There was no money for college, but I got a scholarship to Villa Victoria that included my senior year and one year of nursing school.”
Her path to helping AIDS orphans included a doctorate in nutrition and public health from Columbia University and work at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, both in New York City.
“I always wanted to be a missionary,” she said. “I got my wish, but I didn’t think it would be so many missions.”
Since 1995, Lloyd, who is known as Sister Mary Beth, has been the worldwide mission director for the Filippini nuns who administer to the needs of women, girls at risk, and orphans, especially AIDS orphans in Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Eritrea and India.
“Ethiopia is the country with the greatest need right now,” she said. “India has resistant TB and leprosy in addition to AIDS, but at least there is food and water. In Ethiopia, there is no food, no water, no medicine or hospitals, especially in the rural areas.”
According to Lloyd, the work of the approximately 80 Filippini nuns and a number of volunteers who work in the foreign countries is to provide an elementary education to the AIDS orphans and to provide training in a micro-enterprise, such as sewing, teaching, nursing, or work at a café.
“We provided a young boy with six eggs, and today that man has a farm with 500 chickens and provides eggs to our mission, plus is providing education for his siblings,” she said. “There are success stories with students going to universities, too.”
In June 2008, her work among the AIDS orphans was recognized at the United Nations in New York when she received the Path to Peace Foundation’s Servitor Pacis (Servant of Peace) award given by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N. The award honors unsung heroes in unknown places who work for peace on the national or international level.
Pasquale “Pat” Menna, the mayor of Red Bank, attended the award ceremony and called Lloyd “a remarkable, phenomenal woman.”
“No one wanted these children [AIDS orphans], and the governments weren’t able to help them,” he said. “She empowered these children to care for themselves and their siblings with tremendous results that the U.N. can use as a model.”
Menna said, “She achieved greatness on the world stage without striving for it. She is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.”
Lloyd said the needs of AIDS orphans are great and can be helped by governments and individuals. Governments, including the United States, support the Global Fund, an international financing institution dedicated to the prevention and treatment of AIDS, TB and malaria.
“Economic times are hard, but if the United States meets its contribution to the Global Fund next year, then the other countries may follow its example,” she said.
To help individuals understand the story of AIDS orphans, Lloyd has written a book, “AIDS Orphans Rising,” (amazon. com) that details the lives of these children and what individuals can do to help.
“The book’s title doesn’t refer to the growing number of AIDS orphans,” the nun said, “but it signifies the rising of the children out of their tragedy. All the proceeds of the book go to the AIDS orphans.”
Volunteers are welcome, Lloyd said, to come to the missions and help with the work in the various countries.
“We have a flutist who is coming with instruments and a computer to teach music in Ethiopia,” she said. “Anyone who wants to share their talent, time or treasure is welcomed. As Mother Teresa said, ‘Grab the opportunity to do something good.’”
When Lloyd, 62, has the opportunity, she enjoys running races.
“My father, Thomas, was a runner before the Nike days,” she said. “Last summer I ran 50 miles in the Grand Tetons, and this summer I’m scheduled to run the Jersey Shore full marathon.”
When asked how she does in the races, Lloyd replied,” I’m always the first nun who finishes.”
Sister Mary beth is on the run with RHTA for a great cause until the 19th of June.