With the sad demise of Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil the diocese of Idukki and the “High Ranges” lost a good shepherd and an inspiring leader. The people of Idukki irrespective of religion and political affiliations mourn at his death. At this moment of sorrow, we remember with gratitude the great pastoral service he rendered to this infant diocese. This is a moment to thank God for the gift of such a faithful servant to the Church and the diocese of Idukki. We entrust his soul to the loving and all-embracing hands of the Lord.
Bishop Mathew Anikuzhikattil, the first bishop of the diocese of Idukki, was born on 23rd September, 1942, at Kuruvinal, near Pala, as the third child of Kunjukutty and Aleykutty (Luka and Elizabeth) Anikuzhikattil. When he was in the primary school, his parents migrated from Kadaplamattom to Kunchithanny in the High Ranges. He completed his primary education at Kunchithanny and Chithirapuram. After the High School education at St. Antony’s High School, Mutholy in 1961, he joined St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Kothamangalam to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a priest. Having completed philosophical and theological formation at St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, Kottayam, he was ordained priest on 15th March, 1971 by Bishop Mar Mathew Pothanamuzhi, the first bishop of the diocese of Kothamangalam at Holy Family Church, Kunchithanny, his home parish.
Fr. Mathew was appointed assistant parish priest of St. George’s Cathedral Kothamangalam. After two years of service at Cathedral he was appointed parish priest of St. Joseph’s Church, Josgiri where he served for seven years. He was instrumental in building the new parish church and he is still fondly remembered by the parishioners for his inspiring pastoral ministry as an energetic young priest.
In 1980, Fr. Mathew was transferred to St. Thomas Church, Churuly, where he served only 56 days. Thereafter he was appointed parish priest of Nithya Sahaya Matha Church, Ezhukumvayal where he started the groundwork for the construction of the parish church with the wholehearted co-operation of the faithful.
However, after one year, he was appointed the Director of Jeevajyothi, the diocesan pastoral center at Muvattupuzha, and as the Manager of Mar Mathew’s Press. In the meantime, for two months he served as the Vicar-in-charge of St. Sebastian’s Church, Neyyassery. He was also in charge of the Diocesan Family Apostolate and the period of his service was especially notable by a variety of family renewal programmes.
In 1985 Fr. Mathew proceeded to the Catholic University of Leuven for higher studies in theology. He completed his studies successfully with a doctorate in Liturgical Theology.
In 1989, on his return from Leuven Fr. Mathew was appointed Vicar-in -charge of St. Sebastian’s Church, Pottankad, and thereafter served as the parish priest of St. Michael’s Church, Randar for a short period. In 1990 May he was appointed Chancellor and Secretary to the diocese of Kothamangalam, and visiting professor at Paurastya Vidyapitham Vadavathoor. Ten years of service as Chancellor gave him vast experience in the diocesan administration. He was appointed Rector of St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Kothamangalam in 2000 and he was Vicar in-charge of Thrikkariyoor.
He was a member of the Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan Catechetical Committee, Diocesan Construction Committee, Diocesan Liturgical Committee and Diocesan Discernment Team of the diocese of Kothamangalam in various periods.
When the Eparchy of Idukki was erected by His Holiness Pope John Paul II by separating eight Foranes of the diocese of Kothamangalam on 15th January, 2003, Rev. Dr. Mathew Anikuzhikattil was appointed as the first bishop. On 2nd March, 2003, he was consecrated bishop and the new diocese was inaugurated; his motto was Divinization in Christ.
The period of his pastoral ministry in the diocese of Idukki is especially noted for the all-round development of the diocese both in spiritual and temporal levels. He laid a strong basis for all the administrative structures in the new diocese. The different diocesan departments started functioning for the purpose of faith formation and evangelization. A new minor seminary, a catechetical center, a priests’ home and a beautiful cathedral were built. He established many new parishes and mission stations. He made pastoral visits to all the parishes on different occasions and strengthened the faithful in their faith. He has written seventy five pastoral letters on different subjects to instruct the faithful and lead them in the right path. He was very much concerned about the well-being of the families and strengthened the Department of Family apostolate in the diocese with special programmes for promoting large families.
The High Range Development Society -the diocesan social service department was established with the intention of the uplift of the poor and marginalized people in Idukki. The High Range Samrakshana Samithi, a movement for the protection of basic rights of the farmers in Idukki, has been functioning under the patronage of Bishop Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil.
Besides his responsibilities in the diocesan level he has rendered commendable service to the Regional Bishops’ Conference. He served as the Chairman of the K.C.B.C Commission for Family, Laity and Women, Member of K.C.B.C. SC/ST/BC Commission, and Member of the Syro-Malabar Synodal Commission for St. Joseph's Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha. On 23rd September, 2017, upon completing 75 years of age, Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil submitted his resignation from the office of the Bishop of the diocese of Idukki to the Synod of Bishops of the Syro Malabar Church.
He retired from the office of bishop of Idukki on 5th April 2018. Afterwards he was resting in the bishop’s house, Karimpan. He had been suffering from different kinds of ailments, mainly from diseases connected with heart and kidney. He was spending his last months in different hospitals. On the 15th March, 2020, he entered into the Golden Jubilee year of his priestly ordination.
Bishop Ankuzhikattil was a man of unforgettable apostolic zeal and faith. His strong support for the cause of the farmers in the “High Ranges” will remain in the memory of the people for a long time. People fondly remember him as a man of simplicity who can get along with everyone without any formality. His leadership is unique and his works and dreams will inspire the people of Idukki for years to come.
Despite the heavy weight of his illness he carried his cross joyfully and fervently till the end. At the early hours of May 1st the messenger of the Lord came to call our beloved Bishop Mathew to eternal rest. The whole diocese and the people of Idukki mourn at his sad demise. As we thank God for the life and service of our beloved Bishop Mathew, we pray for the repose of his soul.
May the Lord grant him eternal rest!
Mar John Nellikunnel with the priests, the religious and the laity of the Diocese of Idukki