In praise of Father Cyprian
In the year 1098 the Cistercians were founded in France by Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen. The highlight of the ninth centenary celebrations will be the beatification of The Venerable Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi in Nigeria by Pope John Paul II on 22 March 1998. 900 years and a day after the founding of Citeaux, our Mother House in France.
It is very fitting that it should be so for Fr. Cyprian was a marvellous monk who served the Lord in awe. He lived his monastic life in Mount Saint Bernard, England, from 1950 until his death in 1964. He had applied to Roscrea but the abbot thought he would be happier in an English house.
A Nigerian, he was born in 1903 and ordained in 1937. After 13 years of extraordinary success as a zealous priest in the diocese of Onitsha he must have found the noviciate, where the outdoor work was that of a local farm labourer: the indoor work, that of a domestic servant, very trying indeed. He suffered from frost chaps and chilblains but his first reaction to the sight of snow was not “Cold” but “Coo!” Otherwise Fr. Cyprian found it to be the real life of the gospel where he never saw anyone shake his fist at another monk, nor even pull faces. When he had to break silence he prefaced his words with ‘Benedicite’ ‘A Blessing’ (literally ‘Speak what is good’). He spent much time praying in the Lady Chapel, no doubt wondering at the marvels God wrought for the Blessed Virgin. Like Saints Benedict Joseph Labre and Carbol Maclouf his hidden sanctity would never have become known but for a miracle. A woman suffering from a very severe disease of the stomach was instantly cured on touching the coffin in which his bones were being returned to Nigeria in 1986.
All praise too to Archbishop Heerey of Onitsha who in the 1940s realised the truth now enshrined in the Church’s Canon Law (c.674) ‘however much the needs of the active apostolate demand it, members of these (contemplative) institutes cannot be summoned to aid in the various pastoral ministries.’
After 900 years the various branches of the Cistercian tree are still full of sap, still green, producing people like Fr. Cyprian and the other recently beatified Cistercians, a Spaniard, Blessed Rafael and an Italian, Blessed Gabriella – a patron of Church Unity – both of whom died young.
This may read like triumphalism. It is a triumph of amazing grace and an honour to us to be involved in it from the beginning until today. The best way to show gratitude is to try and make real the ideals of these Cistercians.