On 1 April 2011, Mar Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and Angelicum alumnus, died suddenly from a massive heart attack. He had suffered from prolonged heart problems for some time and died about 2:00 PM at Lisie Hospital in Ernakulam, India, after fainting while celebrating Mass at noon at the Major Archbishop's house, Ernakulam. The Administrator Apostolic Mar Bosco Puthur announced that the funeral would take place on 10 April 2011 at St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica, Ernakulam, India.
Born to Justice Joseph Vithayathil (a member of the Travancore Legislative Assembly, a Chevalier , and a President of the All Kerala Catholic Congress) and Thresiamma Vazhapilly, he became a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church, founded by Saint Alphonsus Ligouri in 1732. He was ordained as a priest on 12 Jun. 1954. He holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome on "The Origin and Progress of the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy". He taught for 25 years at the Redemptorist seminary in Bangalore. In 1972 he took his Master's Degree in Philosophy from Karnataka University. He also taught different subjects in several other seminaries in Bangalore.
From 1978 to 1984 he was Provincial Superior of the Redemptorist provinces in India and Sri Lanka, from 1984 to 1985 he was President of the India Conference of Religious, and from 1990 to 1996 he was appointed as the Apostolic Administrator of the Asirvanam Benedictine Monastery in Bangalore by Pope John Paul II.
He was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly on 18 December 1996 and was consecrated Bishop on 6 January 1997. Pope John Paul II appointed him Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly and Head of the Syro-Malabar Church on 23 December 1999. In February 2008 he was elected President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.
Pope John Paul II nominated Varkey Vithayathil a member of the college of cardinals on 21 January 2001 and raised him to that dignity at the consistory on 21 February. He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
The sacerdotal golden jubilee of the Major Archbishop Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil was celebrated under the auspices of the Syro-Malabar church on 8th November 2003. The jubilee was inaugurated on 12th June 2003 and was concluded on 12th June 2004.
* The Origin and Progress of the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy, Thesis, Angelicum, 1959. Published: Oriental Institute of Religious Studies, India, 1980.
* Straight From the Heart, autobiography and opinions in the form of an extended interview.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.