Frank Bice with some of his friends, some he has known since childhood: Dave Daily, Brian Kelly, John Walsh, Doug Johnston, Rob Stork, Paul Iskyan, and Jay Ryan.
When Frank Bice was in kindergarten, his teacher asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Even at that early age, he answered "a priest." However, as Bice matured, he realized he also wanted to be married and have a family. On May 21, he was able to make both these dreams come true as he was ordained a deacon.
"It was a miracle this all came together," Bice professes. As he goes on to tell his story from his wheelchair outside St. Ignatius Retreat House, one listens to the incredible journey that led him to this day.
Growing up on the corner of Park Avenue and Manhasset Woods Road, he called himself, "a normal kid." The youngest of five children; they all attended St. Mary's. This church played a role in shaping his spiritual life. When asked to recall a fond Manhasset memory, the first thing that comes to Bice's mind is his deep admiration for Monsignor Weist. Referring to him as a strong and kind leader, he noted the impact he had on his life.
Another great impact in his young life came in fourth grade, when Bice met the love of his life. Liz transferred to St. Mary's Elementary School from St. Peter's. "On the first day of school I saw her in class. It was love at first sight." He outlined their relationship's beginnings with great precision. "I finally got the nerve to ask her out in seventh grade. Then we broke up in seventh grade." They parted ways when Frank went away to boarding school and Liz remained at St. Mary's High School. Their relationship did not end here and would survive the test of time in years to come.
"It was absolutely the most beautiful school in the world," Bice says about his high school. He attended Cranwell, a boarding school in Lenox, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the school closed after his sophomore year and Bice transferred to Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. This is where Terry Reagan met Frank and the two became best friends. The two split up when Bice began Siena College, while Regan attended Syracuse University. When asked what kind of friend Bice is, Regan responded with this story. In his sophomore year, Regan decided to transfer schools and Frank suggested he join him at Siena. "Given my grades, I wasn't sure I could get in, and neither was Siena admissions. I wound up being accepted as a non-matriculating student...college housing was therefore withheld from me. For the entire semester Frank hid me in his dorm room and snuck me food from the cafeteria."
It was in his senior year at college at Sienna that Bice suffered a football injury that left him a paraplegic. In the fall of 1980, in his third game of the season, Bice, who played a defensive back safety, tackled a receiver. As they collided, he dropped his head, breaking his neck. "By the time I hit the field, I was paralyzed," he said. After the initial shock and fear dissipated, Frank looked to his faith when he needed it most. It is no coincidence that his favorite line from Scripture is, "When I am weak, I am strong." As he lay on the field, he placed his injury in the hands of God and prayed. "I was on the field saying "Hail Mary's." It was in the emergency room that Bice learned that at 21 years old, his paralysis was permanent. "Initially, I was afraid, but within a day or two I had a sense of peace about the whole situation and I've always had it," he said.
Regan recalls the day, although it was a blur to him. "I remember punching an overgrown oak tree outside Strong Memorial Hospital until my fists were a bloody mess. I remember Frank being concerned about me."
He attributes his strong faith to his mother, Margaret Bice. "I never doubted anything. I just believed it. I saw it in my mom." This made it easier for him to accept his life altering injury. "His outlook was always, always positive. He always thought he would recover," his mother said. She continues to be a strong influence in her son's life and can be found visiting his office during his lunch hour. Even at 85 years old, she still attends 7 a.m. Mass every morning, Bice proudly points out. His father passed away when he was young and it is through his faith that he is able to come to peace with his loss. The words of "The Liturgy of the Hours," "You are my adopted son," which he prays three times a day, truly speak to Bice.
"Crosses can be a real gift," Bice acknowledges and looks at his accident as part of God's plan for him. In fact, in his first homily Bice made sure to include this line: "Aren't we lucky." "I really consider myself the luckiest person who's ever lived," he said with a deep conviction. "I realized no one's life is perfect. The most important thing for me to do is keep a positive attitude and always move forward."
Bice moved forward. After spending eight months in the hospital recovering, he had the courage to return to Siena College to complete his senior year. "I was afraid to go back because I was starting life over again with a disability." This fear did not last long and Bice went on to enjoy his "best year of college." He was even given the opportunity to assistant coach the football and lacrosse teams, both of which he had had been the captain before his accident. During this time he lived with Regan. "He wanted to know if I wanted to be his roommate. He explained that being his roommate would entail my also being his physical attendant, helping him getting showered and dressed in the morning, into bed at night...I wouldn't allow anybody else the privilege of that assignment," Regan said.
Bice moved forward. After spending eight months in the hospital recovering, he had the courage to return to Siena College to complete his senior year. "I was afraid to go back because I was starting life over again with a disability." This fear did not last long and Bice went on to enjoy his "best year of college." In that time, he was given the opportunity to be assistant coach of the football and lacrosse teams, both of which he had been the captain of before his accident.
After college, Bice worked as a business representative for NY Telephone for over four years. He always continued his passion for coaching, leading teams in Manhasset and Port Washington in his free time. In addition, he began teaching religious instruction at St. Mary's as he felt his experience of growing up in Manhasset would enable him to better relate to the students. Religion student Simon Cox said, "He was a good guy and good teacher. He made it fun."
After he was invited by priests to tell his awe inspiring story to youth groups, Bice began to seriously consider entering into the priesthood. When Bice applied to Immaculate Conception seminary in Huntington, he "didn't tell a soul." He did meet with Bishop McCann though, who assured him that he would not stand in his way if he was accepted. As fate would have it, Bice was admitted, the first seminarian with a disability at that school. Because of their new student, the school was made wheelchair accessible. "They were amazing," Bice said. He completed four years of the six year program, taking a leave of absence to pursue teaching at his former high school, Canterbury. While in the seminary, Frank had earned his master's degree in theology, which enabled him to teach this subject to his high school students. His "extracurricular activities" included coaching their football, baseball, and lacrosse teams. His summers were spent in Newport, Rhode Island, where he worked as a counselor at a camp for spinal cord injured adults.
During this time, he and Liz rekindled their romance. At 33, they were engaged. It proved difficult for the couple to make their relationship work since they had two very diverse lifestyles. Frank was living in Connecticut in a boarding school, which he admits was "all consuming." Liz was a single mom on Long Island. Adding to his dilemma was the fact that he still had not resolved the priesthood issue. Bice made one of the toughest decisions of his life and broke off the engagement. "I didn't know what my vocation was," he acknowledged.
He then got the chance to go to Yale Divinity School to earn his master's in religion. "From 6 a.m. until 12 at night I did nothing but papers." In his year at school, Bice typed 33 papers. Since the accident left him with no movement in his fingers, he places pencils between his fingers and uses their erasers to hit the keys of the computer.
After he completed his studies, Bishop McCann invited Bice back to the seminary to complete his final two years. Bice felt this was God's will and decided to once again pursue this ministry. After a year and three months, Bice was ordained a transitional deacon. Every priest takes this title, which includes taking all vows in preparation for the priesthood. However, while at the seminary, Bice still could not keep his mind off Liz. This is partly because from the grounds of the seminary, he could look across the water and see her parents' house in Oyster Bay.
A week and half away from becoming a priest, he still harbored feelings of uncertainty about his true calling. Feeling unsettled, he drove to the shrine of St. Therese, the Little Flower, a saint for which he developed a deep devotion. "I was out there praying like crazy." He got the answer he was searching for and literally heard in his heart the words, "Go home." Listening to this internal voice, he was completely at peace as he made the drive back to Manhasset that same night. Fate played another hand in the lives of Frank and Liz on that miraculous evening. As he pulled into his driveway, Liz, whose daughter spotted his car on the road, pulled into his driveway as well. Although he had not seen her in five years, "I realized I still loved her," he said. It became clear to him that God had a different plan for him and he left the seminary. "I believe that it was an absolute miracle that we got back together...and I believe that God did have a hand in that reunion," Liz said.
Back in Manhasset, he began working at Merrill Lynch, where he still works to this day. "I didn't know a stock from a bond," he admits of his humble beginnings. Most of his work as a financial advisor is affiliated with the church and nonprofit organizations.
Now that he was back home, Bice reunited with his core group of friends, which includes some of his kindergarten classmates. "They're like family," he says with a smile. Regan speaks of his children enjoying rides in Frank's wheelchair. "My kids, like Frank, are oblivious to the fact that he can't walk," he said.
It is through his friends' generosity that Bice has been able to drive what he predicts to be a half a million miles. He drives from his wheelchair in a specially equipped van. Through the years, he has received four vans through fund-raisers hosted by his friends from Manhasset. "Their friendship gives me a feeling of security."
On November 28, 1998, Liz and Frank were married. Bice now had the family he always dreamed of, as he became a stepfather to Liz's children from her first marriage, Lauren and Katy. Lauren graduated magna cum laude from the University of Delaware this spring. Katy is a junior at Quinnipiac. "They're both great kids," he said in delight.
After three years of marriage, it became apparent to Bice that he still wanted to pursue a religious life and he applied to become a deacon. "If you have the ability to serve in some capacity, it sets you free," he said wholeheartedly. Every other Saturday, for three years, he spent his time in training for this title. The wives of the deacons in training were involved in this process as well. Liz, now an English teacher at St. Mary's High School, supported what she referred to as Frank's "arduous and demanding goal." Her pride is apparent in her words. "I feel that he will help so many people. He truly has the gift of faith, the gift of compassion, the gift of motivational speaking, and most importantly, the gift of translating the Gospel into inspiring words and everyday language that helps individuals understand our religion, traditions, and faith; therefore, we all become closer to God. It is an honor to be his wife."
He finally completed his 18 year religious journey on May 21, as he was ordained a deacon at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. "When the bishop laid his hands on my head, I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body," Bice said about the experience. "I was thrilled...it was one of the happiest days of my life," his mother lovingly stated. He will serve at his parish, St. Dominic's in Oyster Bay, where he will preach at mass one Sunday a month. Fittingly, Bice uses a sports reference as a metaphor for his new life as a deacon, comparing his vocation to that of the sixth man off the bench in basketball. "Sometimes you're called in to help the team or you support teammates from the bench."
When he is not giving a homily, advising clients, or doing the grocery shopping for his family, Bice dedicates his time to Tuesday's Children and the United Spinal Association, where he serves on the board of each organization. In addition, during the time he was training as a deacon, he was also pursing his doctorate in theology, which he will complete this summer.
When asked how he got to this place in his life, Bice says, without hesitation, "I would be nothing without the church." And the church would be nothing without Reverend Mr. Frank Bice. Director of St. Ignatius Retreat House, Reverend Joseph Costantino, S.J., provided a testament to Frank's ministry by saying, "We are very blessed indeed for all that Frank does for us, the church of Long Island, and the people of God."