Nun survived 1918 pandemic, both world wars and COVID-19; celebrates 117th birthday with glass of wine

(Image: Credit: NIAID-RML)This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like.

On her 117th birthday a French nun who survived both world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, and a COVID-19 infection celebrated with a glass of wine, a Mass in her honor and dinner followed by a taste of baked Alaska.

Sister André, who is believed to be the second-oldest person in the world, spent Feb. 11 celebrating at her care home in the southern French city of Toulon, The Washington Post reported.

Lucile Randon, who took the name of Sister André in 1944, tested positive for coronavirus on Jan. 16 but didn't develop any symptoms.

She told local media she "didn't even realize I had it," the BBC reported.

The European region's director of the World Health Organization Dr. Hans Kluge paid tribute to the French nun at a press conference.

"A very Happy Birthday to Sister André a COVID-19 survivor.

"There's a remarkable lesson to be learned from sister Andre, who during her illness, selflessly showed more concern for her fellow nursing home residents than for her own life.

"Look after each other and stay safe. Thank you."

Asked if she was scared to have the coronavirus, Sister Andre told France's BFM television, "No, I wasn't scared because I wasn't scared to die... 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," Reuters reported.

"She kept telling me, 'I'm not afraid of Covid because I'm not afraid of dying, so give my vaccine doses to those who need them,'"  David Tavella , the spokesman at the Ste. Catherine Labouré nursing home in Toulon, where Sister André resides. told  The New York Times.

"She's recovered, along with all the residents here," said Tavella.


Sister André was born on Feb. 11, 1904, in Alès, in the Occitanie region of southern France.

She grew up in a nonreligious Protestant family and worked at a young age as a governess in Marseille and a tutor in Paris, according to Le Parisien newspaper.

She converted to Catholicism at 19, and at 25, began working at a hospital.

For 28 years she took care of elderly people and orphaned children.

In 1944, she joined the Daughters of Charity to become a nun at the age of 40.

She took on the name Sister André in honor of her deceased brother, and in 2009, she moved to the retirement home, according to Le Parisien.

She isolated separately from other residents in her retirement home in Toulon, southern France, but is now considered fully recovered.

The facility's spokesman, David Tavella, told the Associated Press Sister Andre is "in great shape" and "really happy."

Her busy birthday schedule was to have included a video call with her family, a service hosted by the bishop of Toulon and a champagne birthday feast.

"It's a big day," Tavella said, noting that there would be a cake for Sister André — although it wouldn't be big enough to hold 117 candles.

"Even if we made big cakes, I'm not sure that she would have enough breath to blow them all out," he said.

Tavella said the menu would include foie gras, capon with fragrant mushrooms and some alcohol to toast the occasion.

"All of it washed down with red wine, because she drinks red wine. It's one of her secrets of longevity. And a bit of Champagne with dessert, because 117 years have to be toasted," he said to the AP.

In the weeks leading up to her 117th birthday, Sister André spent days isolated in her room at the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement.

She was one of dozens of residents at the home who tested positive for the coronavirus.

But on Feb. 9 Sister André was declared recovered from the virus, a spokesman from her retirement home told Reuters, allowing her to hold on to her title as the oldest living European, according to Gerontology Research Group's "World Supercentenarian Rankings List."

"We consider her to be cured. She is very calm and she is looking forward to celebrating her 117th birthday on Thursday," Tavella told Reuters earlier this week.

Ten others at the retirement home died of COVID-19, Le Parisien reported, after 81 of the 88 residents tested positive in January.

There have been more than 3.4 million cases in France and more than 80,000 deaths, according to The Washington Post's COVID tracker.

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