World’s Second-Oldest Person Recovers From Covid-19 in Time for 117th Birthday

Sister André, a French nun born in 1904, self-isolated but didn’t experience any symptoms of the virus

Sister André
Sister André, born Lucile Randon in 1904, has made a full recovery from Covid-19. Today, she turned 117. Photo by Nicolas Tucat / AFP via Getty Images

French nun Sister André spent the past several weeks in isolation while ill with Covid-19. Now, reports Elsa Mari for Le Parisien, the Toulon-based retiree has made a full recovery from the virus—and she plans to celebrate today, her 117th birthday, in style.

Per the New York Times’ Elian Peltier, medical personnel at the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement home diagnosed 81 of its 88 residents, including André, with the virus last month. Eleven of these individuals later died.

The elderly nun, for her part, self-isolated for several weeks but didn’t display any symptoms of the disease, reports Reuters.

“[I] didn’t even realize I had it,” André tells Laurent Amalric of French newspaper Var-Matin, as translated by the Associated Press (AP).

Speaking with Reuters, David Tavella, communications manager at the retirement home, says, “We consider her to be cured. She is very calm and she is looking forward to celebrating her 117th birthday.”

According to the Gerontology Research Group’s World Supercentenarian Rankings List—a list of people believed to over 110 years old—André, who appears under her birth name, Lucile Randon, is the oldest known individual in Europe and the second-oldest in the world. (The world’s oldest person, Japanese woman Kane Tanaka, turned 118 on January 2.)

In an interview with La Parisien, Tavella describes André’s life as “fascinating.” Per Google Translate, he adds that “talking to her is like leafing through an almanac.”

Born in Alès in 1904, André survived the 1918 influenza pandemic, both world wars and what she once described as “many sad events.”

Sister Andre
The French nun lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic and both world wars. Public domain via Gerontology Wiki

Though part of a non-practicing Protestant family, she converted to Catholicism and, in 1944, joined an ecclesiastical order. Assuming the name André in honor of her deceased brother, she spent the next 28 years caring for orphans and elderly people at a local hospital.

“When you’ve been an adolescent during a pandemic that killed tens of millions, and seen the horrors of two world wars, you do put things into perspective,” Tavella tells the Times.

Confronted with another “sad event”—namely, the Covid-19 pandemic—André was more concerned about other residents’ well-being than her own, notes the AP.

The nun also made it clear that she wasn’t afraid of death.

Speaking with France’s BFM TV, as translated by Reuters, she says, “I’m happy to be with you, but I would wish to be somewhere else—join my big brother and my grandfather and my grandmother.”

André spent most of her time in isolation praying and dreaming about the day when she would be able to see friends and family again.

She hopes that victims of the pandemic will “keep hope, fight, fight to heal and set an example,” according to Le Parisien.

The 117-year-old, who is blind and uses a wheelchair, is far from the only centenarian to survive Covid-19. Mary Nicholson, a British woman who tested positive for the virus on New Year’s Eve, recovered in time to celebrate her 106th birthday on January 12. And American Sylvia Goldsholl, who turned 108 in December, tells News 12 New Jersey that she recovered from the virus because she “was determined to survive.”

André celebrated her birthday on Thursday with Catholic mass and a small party featuring foie gras, capon with mushrooms and red wine, report John Leicester and Jeffrey Schaeffer for the AP. After a brief nap, she concluded the festivities with her favorite dessert: a raspberry- and peach-flavored Baked Alaska, per the Times.

As Tavella tells the AP, André complemented her birthday meal with red wine—one of her secrets of longevity”—and Champagne, “because 117 years have to be toasted.”