Some Memories of Fr. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi OCSO
(Reproduced from HALLEL (23) 1998
Paul Diemer is Prior of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey)
Fr. Michael Tansi came to Mount Saint Bernard in 1950. There was already a Fr. Michael in the Community so he was given the name of Cyprian. I was simply professed at the time, and the bells were rung for the arrival of Archbishop Heerey, as was the custom at the time and we juniors were quite excited; "He is here".
He came with a reputation as a very zealous Parish Priest. A man who would do anything for his parishioners, austere towards himself - he was known as "Fr. Strict" - Perhaps he was strict with people too.
Born of pagan parents he was among the first of the Nigerians to be ordained and was very wary of anything that might be linked with paganism. He was not too happy about drums being played because of their link with paganism. When the Forty Hours Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was celebrated he would sleep in the sacristy to make sure that nothing went wrong. Among his people he was a leader and was fearless in standing up for a principle and what he believed was right.
He was a small man and though humble, there was a dignity about him and one could somehow sense an inner strength; and I think I felt a little in awe of him. He had a great sense of humour and a lovely deep chuckle. He wouldn't say very much but he was always friendly. Once, I met him when we were cleaning the place up for a visitation by Dom Gabriel Sortais and he commented, "Our car is travelling in a very high gear!"
As the years went by he would give retreats to small groups of Nigerians who visited the monastery. Speaking to them he seemed a different man, and had a strong authoritative voice. Fr. Gregory who knew him well said he had the qualities of a good political leader.
For a while I stood next to him in choir and sat next to him in chapter - where he would lean against me - presumably to keep warm as it was very cold in those days. When he left the noviciate to join the scholasticate I was a kind of prefect and he asked me to point out any failures in the way he kept the Rule of the Cloister'. Once, I overstepped the mark and gave him a little spiritual direction! He listened, looked at me and then without a word walked away. I didn't try it again. Perhaps the closest I came to him was on one evening when I offered sympathy when his sister-in-law died. She was a very good woman and Cyprian told me he had been crying all day.
If I had only known him through what I saw of him at MSB would I have suggested he should be put up for beatification? Well I know he suffered from the cold and various forms of ill health and I had heard rumours of his great faith. Certainly I spoke to the tribunal when they visited us. But he seemed to merge into the community, he fitted in, seemed just like the rest of us. But there must have been something different, because he goes off and works a miracle! This I find very encouraging - you cannot really gauge the holiness of the one next to you.
After the exhumation - when some of us hoped he would be found incorrupt, the Abbot officially handed over the remains to the Archbishop of Onitsha, and the African of the Tribunal carried them to the sacristy singing a lament for an African chief which was most moving.
When the coffin was waiting to be carried into the cathedral at Onitsha, a young woman suffering from some incurable disease of the stomach was told by a religious sister to go and touch the coffin. This she did and was cured instantly. The woman who a few moments before found it impossible to keep down any food, was taken to a nearby convent where she enjoyed a good meal. Five years later doctors again confirmed the cure.
We were told that the investigations into the cause at Rome were very strict during the meetings of the cardinals (at some of which the Pope was present) but Cyprian came through them all extremely well; with unanimous votes in his favour. May he pray for us all.