TOULON, France — Question: How does one cram enough candles onto a birthday cake for one of the world's oldest survivors of COVID-19? Answer: With 117 candles, you can't.
A French nun who is believed to be the world’s second-oldest person was celebrating her 117th birthday in style on Thursday. There were plans for Champagne and red wine, a feast with her favorite dessert, a Mass in her honor, and other treats to toast Sister André's exceptional longevity through two world wars and a recent coronavirus infection.
“It’s a big day,” David Tavella, the communications manager for the nun's care home in the southern French city of Toulon, told The Associated Press. “She is in great shape. I went to see her this morning. She is really happy. She wanted me to tell her the schedule for the day again.”
It was packed. Some of Sister André’s's great-nephews and great-great nephews were expected to join a morning video call for her, and the bishop of Toulon was due to celebrate a Mass in her honor.
“She was very proud when I told her. She said, ‘A Mass for me?’” Tavella said.
The menu for her birthday feast included a starter of foie gras, followed by capon with fragrant mushrooms and wrapping up with baked Alaska, the nun's favorite dessert.
“All of it washed down with red wine, because she drinks red wine. It's one of her secrets of longevity. And a bit of Champagne with dessert, because 117 years have to be toasted," Tavella said.
As for packing dozens of candles onto a cake, “we stopped trying a long time ago,” he added. "Because even if we made big cakes, I’m not sure that she would have enough breath to blow them all out. You would need a fire extinguisher.”
Sister André’s birth name is Lucile Randon. The Gerontology Research Group, which validates details of people thought to be 110 or older, lists her as the second-oldest known living person in the world, behind only an 118-year-old woman in Japan, Kane Tanaka.
Tavella told French media earlier this week that Sister André tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-January but she had so few symptoms that she didn't even realize she was infected. Her survival made headlines both in France and beyond.
“When the whole world suddenly started talking about this story, I understood that Sister André was a bit like an Olympic flame on a ‘round the world tour that people want to grab hold of, because we all need a bit of hope at the moment," Tavella said.
By strange coincidence, Tavella was celebrating his 43rd birthday on Thursday.
“We often joke that she and I were born on the same day,” he said. "I never tell myself that she is 117 because she is so easy to talk to, regardless of age. It is only when she talks about World War I as though she lived through it that I realize, 'Yes, she did live through it!'”