Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi 1903-1964
By Sister Irene Hartman, OP
Holy Ones of Our Time
One of five children, Iwene Tansi was born in a Nigerian village and raised in the traditional non-Christian religion of his parents. At the death of his father, Iwene’s mother sent him to live with and be educated by a Christian uncle. He was baptized in 1912 and given the Christian name of Michael. While playing with classmates, Iwene was accidentally blinded in one eye.
Iwene studied to be a teacher and taught at Holy Trinity School in Onitsha in 1920. Later in 1924, Iwene became head master at St. Joseph School in Aguileri. For a long time, Iwene had felt a call to the priesthood and he entered the St. Paul Seminary in Igbarium. He was ordained on December 19, 1937, and then began serving as parish priest in several small villages. His parishioners were widely scattered and Father Iwene walked many miles to serve them. A special ministry was his work with women planning to marry.
As a very hardworking priest, Father Iwene manifested a compelling example of deep faith. His flocks loved him but he was aware of a deeper call within his heart, a call to a contemplative way of life. Nigeria did not provide such an atmosphere, so he applied for admission into a Trappist monastery in Leicester, England. There he was accepted and became an oblate with the name Brother Cyprian.
When another Nigerian joined his monastery, Brother Cyprian planned to found a daughter monastery in Nigeria. He was commissioned to establish a monastery not in Nigeria, but in neighboring Cameroon. Ill health changed those plans and he died on January 20, 1964, never having left England.
The Trappists hoped that the example of Brother Cyprian would inspire and increase the faith of the Nigerian people, and they arranged to have his remains returned to Nigeria. His story did indeed inspire many people to pray to Brother Cyprian. Cardinal Francis Arinze, who had received his catechism and baptismal instructions from Father Iwene, supported the cause of his canonization. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Oba, Nigeria, on March 22, 1998. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi became the first West African to be beatified.
Father Iwene is also known as Iwemmaduegbunam, which means “let human malice not kill me”. A quote from his writings is “God will give you double what you give him”.