French nun Sister André, the world’s oldest known person, died Tuesday at less than a month away from her 119th birthday. In her long life, she survived both world wars, the 1918 influenza pandemic and even a case of Covid-19.
André died in her sleep at the Sainte-Catherine-Laboure nursing home in Toulon, France, reports the Associated Press (AP).
“There is great sadness but … it was her desire to join her beloved brother,” says David Tavella, a spokesman for André’s nursing home, per BBC News’ Malu Cursino. “For her, it’s a liberation.”
Born as Lucile Randon in 1904 to a non-practicing Protestant family, André later converted to Catholicism. In 1944, she 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. She lived through what she once described as “many sad events.”
“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 told the New York Times’ Elian Peltier in 2021.
Confronted with another “sad event”—namely, the Covid-19 pandemic—André was more concerned about other nursing home residents’ well-being than her own, wrote the AP in 2021.
Just before her 117th birthday, André tested positive for Covid-19. She self-isolated for several weeks but didn’t display any symptoms of the disease, reported Reuters at the time.
“[I] didn’t even realize I had it,” André said to Laurent Amalric of French newspaper Var-Matin, as translated by the AP.
Remarkably, André made a full recovery from the virus in time to celebrate her 117th birthday in style.
During her illness, the nun made it clear that she wasn’t afraid of death. 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.
“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,” she said to France’s BFM TV, as translated by Reuters.
She hoped that victims of the pandemic will “keep hope, fight, fight to heal and set an example,” reported Elsa Mari for Le Parisien in 2021.
To Le Parisien, Tavella described André’s life as “fascinating … talking to her is like leafing through an almanac.”
According to the Gerontology Research Group, André was the oldest known individual in the world. The last person to hold that title, Japanese woman Kane Tanaka, died last year at 119. Now, Maria Branyas Morera, a 115-year-old woman born in the United States and currently living in Spain, is the world’s oldest person.
After she was considered cured of Covid-19, André celebrated her 117th birthday with Catholic mass and a small party featuring foie gras and capon with mushrooms. After a brief nap, she concluded the festivities with her favorite dessert: a raspberry- and peach-flavored baked Alaska.
André complemented the meal with red wine—as Tavella told John Leicester and Jeffrey Schaeffer for the AP, that was “one of her secrets of longevity.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2021 with the headline, “World’s Second-Oldest Person Recovers From Covid-19 in Time for 117th Birthday.”