PARIS -- A French nun who was believed to be the world’s oldest person but had been reportedly growing weary of the burdens of age has died a few weeks before her 119th birthday, her nursing home in southern France said Wednesday.
Lucile Randon, known as Sister André, was born in the town of Ales, southern France, on Feb. 11, 1904, and lived through the two world wars. As a little girl she was astonished by her first contact with electric lighting at school and, more recently, survived COVID-19 without even realizing she'd been infected.
Spokesman David Tavella said she died at 2 a.m. on Tuesday at the Sainte-Catherine-Laboure nursing home in the southern port city of Toulon.
The Gerontology Research Group, which validates details of people thought to be 110 or older, listed her as the oldest known person in the world after the death of Japan’s Kane Tanaka, aged 119, last year.
The oldest living known person in the world listed by the Gerontology Research Group is now American-born Maria Branyas Morera, who is living in Spain, and is 115.
Sister André tested positive for the coronavirus in January 2021, shortly before her 117th birthday, but she had so few symptoms that she didn’t even realize she was infected. Her survival made headlines both in France and beyond.
Asked about her exceptional longevity after surviving two world wars, she told French media in April that “working … makes you live. I worked until I was 108.”
But local newspaper Midi Libre reported Sister Andre saying in 2020, after recovering from COVID-19, that “God has forgotten me.”
The paper reported that during a visit with her in May, she was imprisoned by the infirmities of age, with loss of eyesight, poor hearing and her face contorted by joint pain.
In better days, Sister Andre was known to enjoy a daily glass of wine and some chocolate. She toasted her 117th birthday in 2021 with Champagne, red wine and port.
“It made me very, very, very, very happy,” she said in a telephone interview at the time with The Associated Press. “Because I met all those I love and I thank the heavens for giving them to me. I thank God for the trouble they went to.”
Sister Andre, who reportedly took her religious name in honor of a favorite brother, recalled the high points of her long life in the May interview with Midi Libre, saying: “The most beautiful day of my life was when the Armistice (ending World War I) was declared,” and the population of Ales gathered in the main square to sing the French national anthem.
Electricity, which she first encountered turning on a light in a classroom as a little girl, was a new word for her to learn and, she said, “a joy.”
In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, saluted “this altruistic personality whom the French considered as a reference, a source of pride and attachment.” The statement noted that Sister Andre lived through 18 different French presidents.
Jeanne Calment, a French woman who also lived in southern France, died in 1997 at the age of 122 and is said to hold the record for longevity.