Michael Cote was born in Sanford, Maine, and attended Our Lady of Lourdes Seminary in Cassadaga, New York. He then studied at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and St. Mary's Seminary College in Baltimore, Maryland, where he received a B.A. in Philosophy. He received an M.A. in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1975.
Cote was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI on June 25, 1975, in St. Peter's Basilica. Upon his return to the Diocese of Portland, he served as a parochial vicar at Sts. Athanasius and John Parish in Rumford and at Holy Rosary Parish in Caribou from 1975 to 1978. From 1979 to 1981, he studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he received a Licentiate of Canon Law.
Following his return from Catholic University in 1981, Cote was appointed adjutant judicial vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal. He served as secretary of the Nunciature of the Holy See in Washington, D.C., from 1989 to 1994, and pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Auburn from 1994 to 1995.
On May 9, 1995, Cote was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Portland and Titular Bishop of Cebarades by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on the following July 27 from Bishop Joseph Gerry, O.S.B., with Bishops Robert Mulvee and Raymond Burke serving as co-consecrators.
As an auxiliary bishop, his primary ministry was to the parishes in the northern part of Maine.
Cote was later named Bishop of Norwich, Connecticut, on March 11, 2003, being installed on the following May 14. As Bishop, he serves as the spiritual leader of 228,520 Catholics in Eastern Connecticut. A bill to abolish the statutes of limitations to help the victims of sexual abuse claim compensation (House Bill 5473) was opposed by the bishops of Connecticut, Bishop Henry J. Mansell, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, Bishop William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, and Bishop Michael R. Cote, Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich. Addressing the priests, the public and the parishes' members, they wrote:
This bill would put all Church institutions, including your parish, at risk. (...)Bishop Closes Haitian Ministries
As the Hartford Courant newspaper reported, the Bishop collected more than $300,000 on behalf of his charity, Haitian Ministries for the Diocese of Norwich. None of the money was received by the charity, and in December 2010 the Bishop closed down the charity, firing its executive director and creating a new charity on behalf of Haiti.