Father Michael Cyprian Tansi was a Trappist monk who was born in 1903 in Nigeria, Africa, and is another Trappist honored with the title “blessed” having been beatified on March 22, 1998 by Pope John Paul II. Father Michael's story is especially interesting because his parents were pagan and did not bring him up to be Catholic. But, his father died when he was still very young and he went to live with “Robert”, a relative who was Catholic, who instructed him in the Catholic faith, and arranged for his baptism into the Catholic church at age nine. When he was about 19 years old, there was a number of deaths of small children in his village and the villagers, becoming alarmed, consulted the “medicine man” about the cause of their deaths. Having consulted his charms, he told them Michael's mother was the source of the trouble. According to native customs, she was obliged to drink deadly poison, which she consented to do for the sake of the people of her village, and she subsequently died. This very painful experience caused Father Michael to be zealous for the rest of his life in his opposition of pagan customs.
From childhood, Michael excelled at his studies, later became a teacher, and finally, headmaster at St. Joseph's school in Aguleri in Nigeria. His intelligence and teaching skills could have earned him considerable money and so his relatives were shocked and dismayed at his announcement that he intended to become a priest. He spent twelve years preparing for priesthood and in 1933 became “bursar” responsible for looking after younger seminarians. It was during this time that he began to impress people by his goodness and strong charity which they remembered as “infectious”. There was in him a “fire of charity” that these seminarians remembered vividly years later.
Michael was ordained a priest on December 19, 1937 and considered it the greatest day of his life. For the next twelve years, he served as a priest and deeply impressed parishoners, one recalling: “Father Michael was the most hard-working priest who ever lived in Nnewi and he hardly ate because time spent at table could be used in doing some work. He was regarded as a living saint”. All during this time, he practiced a very strict asceticism, eating very little, and sleeping on a wooden plank.
He is especially remembered for the pastoral care that he showed to women and for his ability to inspire young men to become priests. Fr. Michael was intensely concerned with the spiritual formation of women and protecting them from what was a customary expectation of suitors to live with them prior to being married. He was also very zealous in providing girls with opportunities to get an education.
As early as 1944, Father Michael had spoken with his bishop about pursuing a vocation as a contemplative monk. A few years later, the archbishop wrote to the Trappists at Mt. St. Bernard Abbey and asked if they might found a new monastery in Nigeria. The abbot consented to provide a monastic formation for Father Michael with a view to his making a foundation in Africa. In 1950, Fr. Michael entered Mt. St. Bernard Abbey and was given the name Cyprian. It must have been very difficult for this popular priest to adjust to life in a Trappist monastery but he insisted that the Novice Master not spare him in any way. Since it was not clear when a new foundation would be made in Nigeria, Fr. Cyprian eventually asked to make his Solemn Vows as a monk of Mt. St. Bernard with the hope that he would some day be sent back to Nigeria. But, for a variety of reasons, the community eventually made a foundation not in Nigeria but in the Cameroons! This must have been heartbreaking for Fr. Cyprian, but he accepted the decision graciously. When the foundation was made in 1963, Fr. Cyprian was chosen to be Novice Master. But in January of 1964, he became seriously ill with swelling in his leg and stomach. Preparing for surgery, he died suddenly of an aneurism on January 20th 1964. Eventually, Fr. Cyprian's remains were transferred to Nigeria. A seriously ill young woman who touched the bier when the body arrived was instantly cured and this hastened the process for Fr. Cyprian's beatification in 1998.