When Sister Claire Maher was born, Theodore Roosevelt was president, Henry Ford's Model T would not be released for another year and the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge was still three decades away.

After witnessing most of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st, Maher celebrated her 105th birthday with flowers and cake Thursday at the Our Lady of Lourdes Convent in San Rafael.

"I've just led a normal life," Maher said. "I just don't know how God keeps me and I'm able to come to the meals, come to the prayers."

Maher is the oldest member of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and is older than any nun at the other major Catholic sisterhoods in the Bay Area, according to officials.

However, at age 105 she is still years away from becoming the oldest person in the world.

"That's considered a youngster by our group," said L. Stephen Coles, a physician at UCLA and director of the Gerontology Research Group, which estimates there are several hundred "supercentenarians" ages 110 and older around the world.

Born in Morning Sun, Iowa, on Nov. 15, 1907, Maher was the second-oldest of nine children -- only one sister, age 90, survives -- in a farming family. She attended Catholic school and learned about the church from her uncle, a priest who visited every two years from Oakland.

Inspired to live a life of prayer, Maher joined her uncle in California and took her vows in 1930.


Advertisement

Many parents did not want their daughters to become nuns but Maher's were different.

"My parents sat me down in the living room and told me I had their blessing," she said.

She spent most of her career teaching, beginning with a class of 70 children at St. Mary School in San Leandro. She became the founding principal of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School in Daly City, which recently named Sr. Claire's Preschool in her honor.

She worked at San Domenico School in San Anselmo and lived in a convent there for more than 25 years until she moved to Our Lady of Lourdes, the Dominican convent for sick and elderly nuns, in 2002.

Although hampered by an injury after she was struck by a golf cart, Maher still walks -- with a walker -- to the dining room and the chapel.

She remains in touch with former students and has already completed her Christmas cards, which number more than 100.

"I don't know what God wants me to do now -- I guess, pray for other people," she said.