Nation/World

A French nun survived the Spanish flu and both world wars. Now she’s beaten COVID-19 days before she turns 117.

In the weeks leading up to her 117th birthday, Sister André spent her days isolated in her room at the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement home in the southern French city of Toulon. The nun was one of dozens of residents at the home who tested positive for coronavirus.

But on Tuesday, Sister André was declared recovered from the virus, a spokesman from her retirement home told Reuters, allowing her to hold onto her title as the oldest living European and second-oldest person in the world, 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,” spokesman David Tavella told Reuters.

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.

Sister André, originally named Lucile Randon, was born on Feb. 11, 1904, in Alès, a town 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.

She converted to Catholicism at 19, and at 25, she 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, Le Parisien reported.

When Sister André turned 115, Pope Francis sent her a personal letter and a blessed rosary, according to FAMVIN, a religious news service.

After her diagnosis with covid-19 in mid-January, Sister André was asymptomatic. Blind and in a wheelchair, the retired nun who lived through the 1918 flu pandemic and both world wars told France’s BFM TV that she wasn’t scared when she tested positive because she is not afraid 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,” she said, according to a Reuters translation of that TV interview.

Tavella told Var-Matin newspaper that the nun was more upset about a disruption in her routine than in her health.

“She wanted to know, for example, if the meal and bed times were going to change,” Tavella said. “She showed no fear of the illness, in fact she was more worried about the other residents.”

While in isolation, Sister André spent most of her time praying, she told Le Parisien, and longing for the days when she could have meals with friends and go on walks in the garden.

Tavella told the newspaper that the nun is very sociable and enjoys listening to music.

As for her 117th birthday on Thursday, Tavella told Reuters that Sister André is “very calm” and “looking forward to celebrating.” He added that the gathering will be small given covid risks.

“She’s been very lucky,” Tavella said.

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