World’s oldest woman wanted God to take her, but always asked about lunch

French nun Soeur André, who was born Lucile Randon, died weeks before her 119th birthday

The world’s oldest woman passed away in a nursing home on the Mediterranean coast in the early hours of Tuesday morning, weeks before her 119th birthday.

Soeur André, who was born Lucile Randon on February 11th, 1904 in the southern French town of Alès, went to Mass every morning and enjoyed chocolate and a glass of port for her afternoon goûter. Though she was blind and confined to a wheelchair in her last years, her mind never faltered and she loved company until the end.

“The good lord is taking his time. I think he has forgotten me!” Sister André told Le Figaro last winter.

In April 2022, Kane Tanaka, the Japanese woman who was the world’s eldest person, passed away at the age of 119. The International Database of Longevity and Guinness Book of World Records certified that Sister André was the new record-holder.

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David Tavella, spokesman for the Sainte-Catherine-Labouré home where Sister André spent the last 13 years of her life, said then that she did not fear death.

“She’s had enough. She wants God to take her . . . But at the same time, she’s always asking what’s for lunch.”

The ageing nun had a humorous, competitive streak and joked about breaking the record for the world’s longest life, held by Jeanne Calment, also from southern France, who died in Arles in 1997 at the age of 122.

“122? I could do that!” Sister André said upon becoming the world’s oldest woman.

France has a high proportion of supercentenarians, in part because civil records are kept meticulously so longevity is easily proven.

After surviving Covid in late 2020, Sister André responded to letters from around the world. She declined a request for a lock of hair for DNA research.

David Tavella said Sister André rose at 7am, ate a good breakfast, went to chapel, enjoyed a glass of wine with lunch, was wheeled round the garden in the afternoon and talked animatedly with other inhabitants of the nursing home over sparkling water in the evening.

Youth is in the heart, Sister André often said.

“They say work kills you, but it was work that kept me alive.”

She was still accompanying younger, feebler pensioners on walks around the garden when aged 108.

Lucile Randon began work as a governess to the children of a Marseille doctor at age 12. At 16, she was hired to teach the Peugeot children in Versailles. She worked in hospitals for 30 years after the second World War.

Sister André's grandfather was a Protestant pastor, her father a teacher. She grew up in a non-practising Protestant family, converted to Catholicism at age 19, was baptised and took first communion. She joined the convent of the Daughters of Charity in the rue du Bac in Paris later in life, and adopted the male name André after a brother who did not understand her religious commitment.

Sister André remembered everything, from the loss of her twin sister Lydie in infancy to her arrival in Paris as a young woman.

“I had lived in a shabby little village in the Gard department. I arrived in a radiant city,” she said.

One of Sister André's most beautiful memories was of the return of her brothers at the end of the first World War.

“It was a rare thing for families,” she told the Agence France Presse in 2021. “Two dead were more frequent than two alive.”

Sister André was proud to receive a birthday card from French president Emmanuel Macron in January 2022. She used to tell journalists she had run out of chocolate, so that well-wishers would send more.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times