Mrs. Virginia Todd, 517 Soniat Street – Old Native of Iberville Parish
In the spring of 1932, Josephite Father Hugh Conahan, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in New Orleans, was able to offer the Last Rites to three aged members of his parish – all of whom had been born slaves. Father Conahan marveled at their piety and reported to The Colored Harvest of July 1932 that they “proved most devout, interesting, and informing.” In particular, Father delighted in visiting Mrs. Virginia Todd of 517 Soniat Street, fondly known as “Aunt Virginia.”
Mrs. Todd was in her late nineties, some sources say ninety-six, others ninety-eight. She was part of a dying generation, one which came of age before “peace declared.” She was owned by Lucien Roth, a planter of Iberville Parish about five miles from Bayou Goula near the community of Dorseyville. Following the death of Lucien Roth, she was inherited by his son Amadee Roth and his wife, Marie Odile Henry. Upon the birth of their oldest daughter, Estephanie, they placed the child in Virginia’s care. Virginia was much devoted to her young charge, driving her to and from school each day. She loved to recount for Father Conahan and others her stories of the Yankees during the War.
Virginia long remained in the employ of the Roth family until she began working for Mrs. Leona Saulet Soniat. She had married Mallory Todd, a laborer of the Cedar Grove Plantation owned by the Soniat family. Before his death, they had several children, among them: Clement Todd, Mallory Todd, Jr., Octave Todd, Mathilda Todd, and Thomas Todd (before marrying she had a son, Prosper Joseph). Moving to New Orleans, her initial mistress, by then Mrs. Lucien Duhon, and her second employer, Mrs. Soniat, both settled on Jackson Avenue one block apart. These ladies both made generous bequests to colored charitable institutions, no doubt in memory of dear Aunt Virginia. The lovely little home where Virginia lived with her daughter and later granddaughter who followed her in service to Mrs. Soniat, was given to her by her employer.
Because the Catholic chapel in Iberville Parish was ten miles away and Mass was rarely celebrated, many slaves and whites grew indifferent to the religion in which they were baptized. Virginia spoke both French and English quite well, and her conversation was “a source of keen delight.” Two of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters from Xavier University near her home prepared her to make her first communion, which she received in February 1932. Among her three living children, nineteen grandchildren, seventeen great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren, only she and her great-great-granddaughter, Mathilda Jones, a student at Blessed Sacrament School were Catholics. When writing of the day when Virginia received her First Communion, Father Conahan wrote, “I dare not attempt to describe that. It was a lovely bit of song, the refrain of which lingers in one’s memory.”
In June of 1932, Virginia came down with a bad spell, the end being not far away. Her constant joy in her days since being catechized was saying her Rosary. Father Conahan brought her the Blessed Sacrament for the last time, anointed her, and gave her the Last Blessing. Just shy of a century, Virginia passed on July 27, 1932. She was buried in her native Iberville Parish. Father Conahan wrote of Aunt Virginia in an article in The Colored Harvest and permanently preserved the story and picture of this faithful old soul – “I cannot but feel that the prayers of this good soul will be the means of bringing the gift of faith to [the] millions of her race.” The Colored Harvest includes the story of many former slaves and other souls ministered to in the Josephite missions. Bound volumes of the past issues can be found in the Xavier University Archives.
Sources: The Colored Harvest, June-July 1932, p. 5; Daily Picayune, 19 February 1932, p. 9; Daily Picayune, 28 June 1932, p. 4.