French nun, virus survivor, turns 117

Europe’s oldest person, French nun Sister Andre, turned 117 on Thursday after surviving COVID-19 last month and living through two world wars, with a special birthday feast including her favorite dessert – Baked Alaska.

Born Lucile Randon on February 11, 1904, Sister Andre said she didn’t realize she had caught the coronavirus, which infected 81 residents of her retirement home in the southeast city of Toulon, killing 10 of them.

“I’m told that I got it,” the nun told AFP ahead of her birthday. “I was very tired, it’s true, but I didn’t realize it.”

But David Tavella, spokesman for the Sainte-Catherine-Laboure nursing home, said she had “experienced a triple confinement: in her wheelchair, in her room and without a visit.”

“So her birthday, it reinvigorates us,” he added, following the deadly outbreak.

Sister Andre said she was not going to do anything special for her 117th birthday but the home is planning a celebration for her.

There will be a special mass at the home, which has a dozen nuns, and the chef is preparing a birthday feast of foie gras, capon fillet with porcini mushrooms and Sister Andre’s favourite dessert: baked Alaska, washed down with a glass of port.

She says her favourite food is lobster and she enjoys a glass of wine.

“I drink a small glass of wine every day,” she said.

Born in Ales in a Protestant family, she grew up as the only girl among three brothers.

One of her fondest memories was the return of two of her brothers at the end of World War I.

“It was rare, in families, there were usually two dead rather than two alive. They both came back,” she told AFP last year, on her 116th birthday.

She converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the age of 26. She joined the Daughters of Charity order of nuns at the relatively late age of 41.

Sister Andre was then assigned to a hospital in Vichy, where she worked for 31 years and then spent 30 years in a retirement home in the French Alps before moving to Toulon.

She is the second-oldest living person in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group, after Japanese woman Kane Tanaka, who is 118.

Asked what she would say to young people, Sister Andre said: “Be brave and show compassion.”

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