Europe’s oldest person, French nun Sister Andre, turns 117 on Thursday after surviving Covid-19 last month and living through two world wars, with a special birthday feast including her favourite dessert — baked Alaska.
Born Lucile Randon on February 11, 1904, Sister Andre said she didn’t realise 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 on Wednesday at the home, where she sat basking in the winter sun, her eyes closed and hands clasped in prayer.
“I was very tired, it’s true, but I didn’t realise it,” she added in a steady, strong voice that belies her years.
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, who has been inundated with calls from reporters around the world, said she was not planning to do anything special for her 117th birthday.
But the home has other ideas, with a celebration to include a video call with her family.
The facility, home to a dozen nuns, plans a special mass, and the chef is preparing a birthday feast with foie gras, capon fillet with porcini mushrooms and Sister Andre’s favourite dessert: baked Alaska.
– A glass of wine a day –
She says her favourite food is lobster and she enjoys “a small glass of wine every day”.
Born in the southern town of 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.
As a young woman she worked as a governess to children of wealthy families in Paris, a job she said “suited me very well.”
She converted to Catholicism and was baptised at the age of 26. Driven by a desire to “go further”, 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.
Nineteen French presidents have occupied the Elysee presidential palace since Sister Andre was born.
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, hands clasped in prayer, “Be brave and show compassion.” — AFP