PARIS — Sister André, a French nun and the world’s oldest known person, who lived through two world wars and the 1918 influenza pandemic and survived COVID-19, died Tuesday in France. She was 118.
A spokesperson for the nursing home in the southern city of Toulon, where Sister André was residing, confirmed the death in an interview with French news media.
“Humanity loses its oldest person tonight,” Hubert Falco, the city’s mayor, wrote on Twitter.
Sister André made headlines in recent years for being the world’s oldest known survivor of COVID, according to Guinness World Records. She beat the disease with barely any complications just as she was about to turn 117.
“She kept telling me, ‘I’m not afraid of COVID because I’m not afraid of dying,’” David Tavella, a spokesperson for the nursing home, Ste. Catherine Labouré, said in an interview with The New York Times in 2021.
On Tuesday, Tavella told Agence France-Presse that it was Sister André’s “desire to join her beloved brother,” with whom she was close, in death.
“For her, it is freedom,” he said.
Born Lucile Randon on Feb. 11, 1904, the year New York opened its first subway station, Sister André grew up in a Protestant family of six in the southern town of Alès.
She worked as a governess in Paris and later converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the age of 26. She joined a charitable order about two decades later and took on her ecclesiastical title.
Sister André was assigned to a hospital in Vichy, where she cared for orphans and others for three decades. She was known for her generosity, often aiding older people younger than herself.
“Sister André was above all a profoundly good and endearing woman, dedicated to others,” Falco said.
Besides, Sister André told reporters last year, “Work kept me alive.”
She lived through the administrations of 18 French presidents and 10 popes. Her relatives said she always had vivid memories of global events, including the two world wars. She said in interviews that she saw many French soldiers who fought in the 1954-62 Algerian war for independence returning traumatized to the hospital where she worked.
“Since I came into this world, I have only seen wars and fights,” Sister André said in an interview as she celebrated her 118th birthday.
Sister André also survived the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, which took the lives of some 50 million people worldwide.
Her surviving COVID-19 in early 2021 was an uplifting story during the coronavirus pandemic, when nursing homes were particularly at risk. Nearly all of the 88 residents of her facility became infected, and several died.
“It’s difficult to fathom that someone born before the patenting of plastic, zips or even bras was alive well into the 21st century, and robust enough to beat COVID-19,” Craig Glenday, the editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, said in a statement.
Sister André became the world’s oldest known person after the death of Japan’s Kane Tanaka, who died last year at 119, according to Guinness World Records. With Sister André’s death, the oldest known person, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which validates those thought to be 110 or older, is Maria Branyas Morera. She was born in the United States, lives in Spain and is 115.
Glenday said Sister André was “the fourth-oldest person ever authenticated.”
The French president’s office said in a statement that “she had become for the French a symbol of continuity and resistance, a memory of the century.”
Blind and in a wheelchair during her last years, Sister André at times felt lonely and dependent, she told French news outlets.
She was known to be a gourmet. For her 117th birthday, she ate foie gras, roasted capon, cheese and a dessert similar to baked Alaska. And, she said, she enjoyed a bit of wine and chocolate daily.
“Perhaps her secret of longevity,” Tavella said.
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