Sister André, a French nun and the world’s oldest known person, who lived through two world wars, the 1918 influenza pandemic and survived Covid-19, died on Tuesday in France. She was 118.
A spokesman for the nursing home in the southern city of Toulon, where Sister André was residing, confirmed the news in an interview with French news media and said she died during her sleep. “Humanity loses its oldest person tonight,” Hubert Falco, the city’s mayor, wrote on Twitter.
The French nun made headlines in recent years for being the world’s oldest known survivor of Covid, according to Guinness World Records. She beat the disease with barely any complications just as she was about to turn 117.
“She kept telling me, ‘I’m not afraid of Covid because I’m not afraid of dying,’” David Tavella, a spokesman at the nursing home, Ste. Catherine Labouré, said in an interview at the time.
On Tuesday, Mr. Tavella told Agence France-Presse that it was Sister André’s “desire to join her beloved brother,” with whom she was close, in death. “For her, it is freedom,” he said.
Born Lucile Randon on Feb. 11, 1904, the year New York opened its first subway station, Sister André grew up in a Protestant family of six in the southern town of Alès. She worked as a governess in Paris and later converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the age of 26. She joined a charitable order about two decades later and took on her ecclesiastical title.
Sister André was assigned to a hospital in Vichy, where she cared for orphans and others for three decades.
She was known for her generosity, often aiding older people younger than herself. “Sister André was above all a profoundly good and endearing woman, dedicated to others,” Mr. Falco, the mayor, said.
Besides, Sister André told reporters last year, “Work kept me alive.”
She lived through 18 French presidents and 10 popes. Her relatives said she always had vivid memories of global events, including the two world wars. She said in interviews that she saw many French soldiers who fought in the 1954-62 Algerian independence war returning traumatized to the hospital where she worked.
“Since I came into this world, I have only seen wars and fights,” Sister André said in an interview as she celebrated her 118th birthday.
Sister André’s story of surviving Covid-19 in early 2021 was uplifting news during the coronavirus pandemic, with nursing homes particularly at risk. Nearly all the 88 residents of her nursing home had become infected, and several eventually died.
“It’s difficult to fathom that someone born before the patenting of plastic, zips or even bras was alive well into the 21st century, and robust enough to beat Covid-19,” Craig Glenday, the editor in chief of Guinness World Records, said in a statement.
The French nun became the world’s oldest known person after the death of Japan’s Kane Tanaka, who died last year at 119, according to Guinness World Records. With Sister André’s death, the oldest known person, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which validates those thought to be 110 or older, is Maria Branyas Morera. She was born in the United States, lives in Spain and is 115.
Mr. Glenday said Sister André was “the fourth-oldest person ever authenticated.”
Blind and in a wheelchair during her last years at the nursing home, Sister André at times felt lonely and dependent, she told French news outlets in interviews in recent years.
She was known to be a gourmet. For her 117th birthday, she ate foie gras, roasted capon, cheese and a dessert similar to a baked alaska. She said in several interviews that she enjoyed a daily diet of wine and chocolate.
“Perhaps her secret of longevity,” Mr. Tavella said.