Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco

New Jersey Monthly

Sister on the Run

Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd of the Religious Teachers Filippini rises at 4:30 most days to get in a run before morning prayer and Mass. At 69, the sister still competes in long-distance runs for charity and to call attention to her favorite causes, although her pace has slowed to an 11-minute mile.

A resident of Villa Walsh, a girls’ prep school in Morristown, Sister Mary Beth trains at least 30 miles most weeks. Upcoming runs include South Carolina’s Cooper River Bridge 10K in April (she raised $80,000 for the Filippini missions on the run last spring) and a 135-mile Death Valley, California run on February 9, also benefitting the missions.

Fundraising with her feet is not new for Sister Mary Beth. In 2010, she completed 20-mile races in all 50 states to raise money for AIDS orphans. She trains and competes in her Catholic order’s modest garb, exchanging only her sensible walking shoes for a pair of Hoka running shoes.

Running in her habit “brings attention,” she says, “Then I can turn the story away from me to who’s suffering.” She is passionate about helping disadvantaged children worldwide, especially African children orphaned by AIDS. That, she says “is where my real heart is.”

Since 1994, Sister Mary Beth, who holds a doctorate in nutrition and public health from Columbia University, has been the international mission director for her order’s schools and orphanages in Albania, Brazil, Eritrea, Ethiopia and India. She recently updated her book, AIDS Orphans Rising, to focus on child-headed households in Africa and around the world. “The love of their mother and father must’ve been very strong,” she says, “because they want to protect each other.”

The warmth of the Filippini Sisters, who taught at Villa Victoria in Ewing, where the cross-country runner had transferred on scholarship from Red Bank Catholic, inspired her to join the order 50 years ago. She set aside running because “no one else was,” earned a B.S. and M.S. in science education, and began to teach at Villa Walsh. A 30th-birthday gift of running shoes prompted Sister Mary Beth’s return to the track.

Sister Mary Beth heads John Corr Family Resources, which helps distribute basic necessities to families in Morristown and Newark. On December 15, her team will host a Christmas party at Newark Tech, providing toys for holiday gift giving to mothers in need.

The daughter of Irish immigrants, the Sister says her family was surprised when she entered a predominantly Italian order. “My grandmother said, ‘They don’t eat the way we do.’ I said, “Thank God!’”