Francis “Frank” Bice, a coach, teacher, author, foundation head and Catholic deacon born and raised in Manhasset, has died. He was 60.
Bice died on Jan. 1 in South Bend, Ind., where he had been working as a tour guide in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.
As a young man, Bice attended St. Mary’s Grammar School and graduated from the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut in 1977. He attended Siena College in Loudonville in upstate New York, serving as president of the senior class and captain of the football and lacrosse teams and becoming an All-American in football.
It was during his senior year that his life suddenly changed. While playing a football game against St. John Fisher College on Oct. 4, 1980, Bice tried to deliver a “big hit” against his opponent.
“As I swooped into him, I didn’t get my head up in time, and as our bodies collided, I broke my neck,” Bice recalled in the documentary short “Saint Francis,” directed by Will Dowler of Savannah, Ga. “And as I lay on the field, all I knew was that I couldn’t move and couldn’t feel anything.”
Bice’s injuries from the incident left him paralyzed for the rest of his life. His doctor at the time told him that he wouldn’t walk again, and didn’t know if he would live. Undeterred, and with financial assistance for medical bills from his friends, Bice returned to Siena and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English.
A New York Times profile from 1992 says that Bice stayed away from sports for 10 years after graduating, instead working in public relations and sales before attending the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington to study for the priesthood. He earned a master’s degree in theology and pastoral studies, before leaving to work at his alma mater, Canterbury.
In his career as a teacher and coach, Bice taught theology and coached basketball and football at Canterbury from 1991 to 1995. He earned a second Master’s degree in religion from Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn., and was ordained as a deacon in 2005, serving as a deacon at St. Mary’s for a time.
Fr. Robert Romeo of St. Mary’s Church in Manhasset recalled Bice preaching a homily at his mother’s funeral.
“The effects of his life as a deacon and a human being were felt by so many in this community,” Romeo said.
In 2011, Bice began teaching theology at the all-girls high school Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead. Former Garden City resident Mark Trolio taught theology with Bice, and said the deacon was “selfless with a capital S.”
“I always called him Deacon and he would tell me, call me Mr. Bice,” Trolio remembered. “I was floored by him. From the beginning, he presented all of us with inspirational courage and joy that was incredibly catching. It rubbed off on me, and I know it rubbed off on our colleagues in the department.”
Trolio recalled waiting outside in the mornings to help Bice to his homeroom.
“I wanted to make certain that as many girls as possible saw him, and felt the joy that oozed out of him every day that he was at the school,” Trolio said. “Frank Bice is the quintessential example for taking good from the bad. Whenever anyone at Sacred Heart has a bad day, they’re going to remember that joyful smile on his face.”
Bice left Sacred Heart in 2015 to serve as co-chair of the theology department and coach of football, girls’ basketball, and girls’ lacrosse at Canterbury.
As a teenager, Bice briefly attended the Cranwell School in Lenox, Mass., a college preparatory school run by the Society of Jesus, until its closure due to financial reasons in 1975. In 2014, Bice started the Cranwell Foundation, which sought to support young people in need of scholarship opportunities.
In addition to his work as a teacher and coach, Bice posted near-daily homilies on the Bible on his YouTube channel. Bice also authored the books “Your Cross is Your Gift,” published in 2011, about his life and experiences, and “Seasons of Hope,” published in 2016, about his time as a coach and player.
Trolio remembers being shown a picture of a young Bice and two of his fellow seminarians with then-Pope John Paul II.
“Saint John Paul II is standing to the left, and there’s Frank, and the biggest smile was on his face,” Trolio said. “His faith, zeal, love of God, his recognition that the cross he bore was his gift, and he wanted to use it to teach everyone around him.”
In “Saint Francis,” Bice is shown on the grounds of Notre Dame with his dog, Kelly.
“At this stage of my life, when people say they’re inspired by me, I’m kind of shocked,” Bice said in the documentary. “But when they say that, it makes me feel good. Makes me feel like maybe I’m doing a decent job.”
Bice is survived by his sisters Teri Magel, Peggy Bice, and Kitty Lutz, and brother Clifford Bice; his brothers-in-law Henry Magel and Skip Lutz; nieces Kate Noonan Glaser and Heather Noonan, Reggie Lutz, Maggie Taylor, and Molly Ferguson; nephews Michael Noonan, Henry Magel, and Frank Lutz; grand-nieces Tori and Winn Glaser, Grace and Katherine Taylor; and grand-nephew Andrew Taylor. He was predeceased by his nephew, Patrick Byrne.
A viewing is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sunday at Fairchild Sons Funeral Chapel in Manhasset, and a funeral will be held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Monday at 11:15 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the Bice family asks that mourners consider making a gift to the Sisters of Life in Suffern, New York, or the Cranwell Foundation in Manhasset.