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Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi
1904 to 1964
Roman Catholic
Nigeria


In December 1939, a new parish called Dunukofia was carved out of Nnewi parish. Originally it consisted of those towns linked together by a common ancestral heritage known as Umu-Dunu (Umudioka, Ukpo, Ifite Ukpo, Umunnachi and Ukwulu). Rev. Fr. Michael Iwene Tansi was appointed its first parish priest. In those days it was an unusual phenomenon to have a black parish priest.

A native of Aguleri, Fr. Tansi was born in 1904. He was baptised at the age of nine. He attended the primary school in St. Joseph's Catholic School, Aguleri and, later, taught for sometime in his Alma Mater before he was transferred to the Holy Trinity School, Onitsha. In 1925, he entered the seminary at Ighariam and was ordained a priest on 19th December, 1937. He worked as a curate at Nnewi (1937-1939) before he was appointed the parish priest of Dunukofia.

Fr. Tansi arrived on December 31, 1939 to take possession of the parish. The next day, January 1, 1940, Archbishop Heerey with Fr. Tansi and a few other priests performed the ceremony of the inauguration of the parish.

It was not until 1941 that other towns outside Umu-Dunu expressed their wish to join this new parish, partly because of its nearness to them and partly because of the magnetic influence of the saintly parish priest, Fr. Tansi. Consequently Adazi parish lost Awkuzu, Abbà, Enugwu-Agidi and Nawgu to the young Dunukofia parish. The towns of Eziowelle, Abacha, Abatete (with sub-stations at Agbaja, Ekeagu and Nsukwu), Uke, Ideani, Ogidi-Odida, Um-Ogidi became severed from Nnewi parish, while Ogbunike (Ogbamgba) and Umunya were carved out of Aguleri parish to join the new parish. Thus began the long association of Ogbunike with Dunukofia parish - a relationship that spanned over 50 years.

There was something unique about the parish priest. His zeal for evangelization was exceptional, and the people were particularly struck by his ascetic life (observed by those very close to him), generosity, and exemplary life of poverty. He was not an eloquent speaker but his message penetrated the hearts of the people. The old people still remember his prophetic sayings about Ogbunike:

Ogbunike, mango di na be unu na aru unu oruru [1]
Agwo talu Abatete, julu Ogidi-Odida odu, bua Ogbunike onu [2]
In 1943, Fr. Tansi decided to transfer the church in Ogbamgba (Azu-Ogbunike) to a more central place in Ogbunike where it would serve a greater number of the inhabitants. The choice place was Osile village where a piece of land [3] had been given to the church by the family of Okogba. This site was rejected because the C.M.S. had already built their church in Osile. Amawa village was next considered. It was not central, being very far away for those from Umueri and part of Ifite. But none of the other villages offered a good alternative. In absence of any other better site, therefore, Amawa was chosen.

Fr. Tansi first moved the school. Next, in 1944, he moved the church. He located both in the present site of St Vincent's Catholic Church at Nkwo Amawa. It is held that Peter Nworah was very instrumental for the location of these projects.

Most of the people from Azu did not like the transfer. In protest they began to make contributions in order to build a church in their village. It took them about thirty years to realise the dream. When they began the actual building (in 1978), they had to call it St. Stephen's Catholic Church, since the original name had been given to the central church in Amawa.

The building of the church at Amawa took four years to complete (1944 - 1948). It was a very solid structure, built with stones. Fr. Tansi had already been transferred before the edifice was completed. Later, he joined the Cistercian Monastery of St. Bernard in Leicestershire where he made his simple vows on 8th December, 1953, and solemn vows on 8th December 1956. On 12th January, 1964, he died in the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

Denis Chidi Isizoh


Notes:

1. Literally, "Ogbunike, the mango tree in your town is warning you." In those days when missionaries came to a new place, they used to plant trees, particularly mango trees. The growth of these trees was expected to demonstrate, in a symbolic way, how the response of the people to the message of faith ought to increase with the passing of years. Fr. Tansi wanted to express in the phrase that the response of the people of Ogbunike was too slow to his liking. The mango tree was standing in front of the old church building at Ogbamgba Ogbunike. Ironically, there was no priestly ordination in Ogbunike until that very mango tree was cut down in 1978. It was cut down in order to have enough space to build a new church there.
2. Literally, "The snake that bit Abatote hit Ogidi-Odida with its tail and spat on Ogbunike." The meaning is not clear. Perhaps the towns mentioned had the same problem of slow response to the message of the Gospel.
3. Later a nursery school (popularly known as "Saint Ikwuesi" because of its nearness to the family house of Ikwuesi) was built by the Catholic church in that piece of land. The project was later abandoned due to lack of adequate sponsorship.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from The Dawn From on High : A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Ogbunike, copyright © 1995, by Rev. Fr. Denis Chidi Isizoh, Tipografica Leberit, Rome, Italy. All rights reserved.