By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Father Michael Cambi, who arrived at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake”
Catholic Church as pastor on Labor Day Weekend, grew up in a Catholic family, primarily in Yorktown Heights, Westchester County, with a stint in Northern Virginia.
But it never occurred to him to be a priest.
He grew up a Yankees fan, played center field and third base, and went off to Notre Dame, majoring in metallurgical engineering and history. Graduating from the five-year program, he joined GE in Cincinnati, moved to Orlando with Westinghouse/Siemens, then rejoined GE in Schenectady.
“I never lost my faith,” he said in an interview at the rectory on Elm Street, but adds, “I was seduced by what the world had to offer. I was lazy with faith.”
In 1990, 11 years into the world of work, he was in the midst of what he calls a “spiritual reading” and, all of a sudden, it happened. He underwent a “conversion experience.”
He had a steady girlfriend at the time, and when he shared his experience, she suddenly said, “You know, I think you should be a priest.”
As it happens, he was thinking the very same thing.
Like many people, he was struggling with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” An engineer, he perceived God as “a watchmaker,” who made the world, then left it alone.
Pursuing his new vocation, he studied the Virgin Mary’s appearance at Medjugorje, Croatia, in the 1980s, and came to a different conclusion. “God is very involved in the world,” he now says.
Father Cambi entered a six-year seminary program, studying at Theological College, a division of
Catholic University in Washington, D.C. His “pastoral year” – the fourth in the program – was at Johnstown in Montgomery County.
Graduating with a master’s in divinity, he spent three years at St. Peter’s in Saratoga Springs,
then was assigned as pastor to Sacred Heart in Stamford, where he served for 10 years.
After Father John P. Rosson retired April 2019, Father Cambi was approached about the Cooperstown job. At first, he was resistant.
But over time, he concluded he was comfortable in Stamford, and was staying there simply for “selfish reasons.”
Once he made the decision, “I found myself getting excited about it and looking forward to a change,” he said.
He arrived, of course, in the midst of COVID-19, so it’s been hard to get well acquainted with his parishioners. With 6 feet of separation, chairs in the back and seating in the choir loft, the church can accommodate “100-ish” each Sunday.
Because of COVID, he was empowered to perform the Rite of Confirmation, accepting teenagers into full membership in the Catholic Church, and he’s been instructing nine young people from St. Mary’s, three from Cherry Valley and one from Stamford.
He is also vicar of the Leatherstocking Vicariate, overseeing churches in Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties.