Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi

Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi was born in 1903 in Iboezunu, at the edge of the forest near the ancient city of Aguleri in southern Nigeria. His parents were Tabansi and Ejikwebi, Ibo farmers who practiced the “traditional religion” and he was named Iwene at birth; in 1909 he was sent to the Christian village of Nduka and three years later was baptized by Irish missionaries and given the name Michael. Described by his schoolmates as hard-working and hard on himself, with an early character and deep piety, at the age of 16 he obtained his first school leaving certificate, which qualified him for a teaching post. He taught for three years at Holy Trinity Primary School, Onitsha, and worked as headmaster at St. Joseph’s School, Aguleri, for one year; in 1925, over the objections of his family, he entered St. Paul’s Seminary, Igbariam. After completing his studies in philosophy and theology, he was ordained a priest on December 19, 1937 by the missionary Bishop Charles Healy at Onitsha Cathedral. As the second priest in Onitsha and the first priest in the Agreli region, he began his pastoral ministry in the parish of Nea and in 1939 was appointed pastor of Dunukofia (Umdioka region), where he courageously confronted the immoral practices and dangerous “cursed forests” that weighed on consciences and family peace. The legend was destroyed. To eliminate premarital cohabitation, he created marriage preparation centres so that girls and young women could be protected and receive Christian education. He also founded the Marian League for the moral education of young people, with great results. Fr. Tansi preached from village to village on foot and by bicycle, giving catechisms and establishing prayer centers that eventually became parishes. He listened to confessions for hours, even late at night. His zeal, his brilliant example and his life of prayer and penance transformed people into a true Christian community, creating so many vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life that his parish held the diocesan record for parish fillers. One day in 1949/1950, on a Day of Remembrance for priests, Bishop Healy expressed his desire that one of his priests should embrace the religious life and then establish a retreat in the diocese. Fr. Tansi immediately stated that he would be “very happy”. Bishop Healy contacted the Trappist monastery of St. Bernard’s in Leicestershire, England, which offered him a probationary period as an oblate, and in the summer of 1950 he led his parishioners on a Holy Year pilgrimage to Rome and thence to St. Bernard’s after two and a half years of oblation, he entered the monastery on the Day of Prayer of the Immaculate Conception and took the name Cyprian; a year later, on December 8, 1956, he took simple vows and was solemnly ordained. For the next seven years he lived a secret life of prayer and work, humility and obedience, faithfully and generously observing the Cistercian Rule; in 1963, after 13 precious years as a Trappist, the time seemed ripe to establish a monastery in Nigeria. However, due to political tensions, his superiors chose the neighbouring country, Cameroon, as the place to establish the monastery. For Fr. Cyprian, who had been appointed abbot of an African monastery, this was a blow: it was the only time in his 13 years of monastic life that he lost his temper, but he soon recovered and accepted God’s will with great courage. In January 1964, he began to feel severe pain in one of his legs. He was diagnosed with thrombosis, found unconscious the next morning and was taken to the Royal Leicester Hospital in Leicester, where tests revealed an aortic aneurysm. He died the following morning, 20 January 1964. He was buried on 22 January at Mount St Bernard. His funeral was attended by several Nigerian priests living in London, including Father Francis Arinze, who later became Archbishop of Onitsha, Cardinal and President of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue. His remains were exhumed in 1988 and reinterred in the priests’ cemetery near the Onitsha Cathedral, where he had been ordained a priest 51 years earlier. After the beatification ceremony, his remains will be buried in the parish church in his village, Aguleri.

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