Bishop Godfrey M.P. Okoye reflects on the person and message of Father Tansi
Catholic Mission, Box 16
Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
19th February, 1967.
I began to know Father Cyprian Tansi intimately from 1940 when he was appointed to open Dunukofia parish (my home parish) as a separate parish. I was then a Seminarian doing my probation, teaching in Christ the King College, Onitsha, after my Secondary School studies. I can say that under God I owe my persevering in my vocation to him.
Father Cyprian Tansi was a man that never spared himself but full of charity and consideration for others. When it came to keeping God's Commandments he was uncompromising. He built Marriage Training Home in our parish in order to make sure that intending couples were kept from temptation. In that Home the intending girls lived as boarders and were prepared spiritually for marriage and taught Home Economics for a number of months or even a year before marriage.
He was a most zealous man for Religion and spiritual life generally. He loved prayer and spent long periods at it. I saw him at late hours at night praying in his oratory.
He encouraged vocations to the priesthood and the Religious life in our young men and women and was a shining example to them ..As a Seminarian I tried myself to copy him. Many boys entered the Seminary from Dunukofia Parish after his arrival there....
To me personally Father Tansi was everything. I had several trials during my Seminary days beginning from 1941 when my brothers began to die one after another. Of the four brothers in the family I am the only survivor today. The condition of my family with my old mother and many widows living, became so desperate with regard to maintenance that many advised me to withdraw from the Seminary, at least temporarily, in order to work and support the family. But Father Tansi said: "Remain where you are. Your vocation first. God's Providence will look after these things". Hen then took upon himself to look after my family as much as possible, and told the members not to bother me with letters complaining of one thing or another, because these letters had already made the Director of the Seminary begin to doubt whether he would continue to keep me.
Father Tansi was my Spiritual Director. He did not believe in half measures. Sanctity of life for a priest is paramount with him. He stressed the characteristic virtues of a priest: charity, humility, obedience, zeal, self-denial, prayer, etc. These things he practised himself.
In the last Retreat to me in early September of 1963 at Mount St. Bernard Abbey, England, he reiterated these virtues, showed me very much the loftiness of priesthood, especially the episcopate, which is the fullness of priesthood. It is a great grace for a sinful mortal to be raised so high. We should be humble and grateful and repay love with love. The virtues mentioned above should shine even more in a Bishop. He unfolded to me the Benedictine spirituality, spoke of the teachings of St. Bernard, and of St. Benedict himself. He copied out some words of these two great Saints and gave me for my guidance. He finally charged me to go all out and work for God himself has given me the mandate to do so. "What you cannot do now when can you do it?" Therefore "establish the full life of the Church in our country - build the Seminary and encourage vocations to the priesthood; bring in the various Orders and Congregations of both men and women enclosed and active, and let our young men and women embrace these various types of Religious life. Extend and deepen the life of the Church in Nigeria. Defend the Church against her enemies". But in all things "do the truth in charity". He then promised to pray always for me so that I might fulfil these things and all others that God expects of me. He finally gave his own personal message.
He was so humble. It was with great difficulty I persuaded him to bless me; and when he agreed to do so he insisted that I should bless him first.
I could write so much on Father Cyprian Tansi if I had the time to do so. I knew him so well. He was a great man of charity and of self-denial and self-effacement.Once when I, as a Seminarian accompanied him on a trek in Dunukofia parish he suddenly asked me when we were at supper: "Godfrey will you promise to do what I shall ask of you tonight". Without any hesitation I answered, "sure, Father, I will do whatever you ask me to do". He said nothing more and we continued our meal (he ate very little as a rule). When we finished the meal, our recreation and night prayers, he called me to his apartment and asked me to take his camp bed and sleep on it while he himself would sit on a stretcher for the whole night! I suddenly answered, "never will I do such a thing". He retorted: "Did you not promise me to do what I would ask you to do this night?" I had quite forgotten the promise. With confusion I took his camp bed for the night.
Father Cyprian Tansi lived in God and for God and with God. He was a man of God. R.I.P.
G.M.P. Okoye, C.S.Sp.
Bishop of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.