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The essence of Notre Dame

| Thursday, January 16, 2020

Perhaps you noticed him this past fall.  Even among the tumult and frenzy of a new semester he stood out as he made his way around campus in his motorized wheelchair.  Perhaps you noticed his warm smile or the jaunty way he wore his tweed cap, or the presence of his loving companion dog, Kelly, on his lap.  You may have seen him at the Morris Inn, where he lived for a time, or near the football practice fields, or traversing God quad, or, more likely, at the Basilica where he served as a volunteer tour guide.  His name was Frank Bice and, to me, he was the essence of what makes Notre Dame such a special place.  

Although many other universities field successful football teams and have beautiful campuses, no other university can lay claim to the call of a pilgrimage that led Frank Bice to our beloved campus.   Much the way we were “welcomed home” when we received that unforgettable message from the admissions department, Frank was also called “home” to Notre Dame and ultimately called to his eternal home on New Year’s Day.

First some background on Frank.  He was not a Notre Dame alumnus.  Frank grew up in Manhasset, New York and attended St. Mary’s Elementary School (the same school I attended) and high school at the Canterbury School in Connecticut.  He went on to college at Siena College, where he served as senior class president, captain of both the football and lacrosse teams, and became a football All-American.  In 1980, during his senior year, Frank tragically broke his neck while making a tackle.  He immediately realized he was paralyzed and would never walk again.  Although, for a time, Frank’s life remained at risk, he recovered enough to return to Siena to earn his degree in English literature. Later, Frank attended seminary and earned a masters degree in theology and pastoral studies.  Frank went on to add another masters degree from Yale Divinity School before becoming ordained as a deacon.  And in the midst of all this he worked as a basketball and football coach at Canterbury from 1991 to 1995 and again in 2015, and he taught theology at Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, New York.  He also wrote two inspirational books and, for the last decade, posted daily spiritual and inspirational messages on his own YouTube channel, beginning all of his messages with a simple yet comforting, “Good morning my friends.” In short, Frank was a whirlwind of grace. 

In 2018 Frank’s health took a turn for the worse.  He was hospitalized for almost a year.  When he recovered enough to leave the hospital, Frank was not strong enough to return to teaching and coaching.  Frank, who held a deep devotion to Mary, and who had visited Notre Dame years before, told his friends and family that he felt his recovery should continue at Notre Dame.  Frank’s community of friends raised the funds necessary to bring Frank to campus and in August 2019 Frank settled in at the Morris Inn.  In no time he was a daily presence at football practices (armed with an all-access pass and mentoring and cheering on members of the team) and a memorable tour guide at the Basilica.  Although sports were very important to Frank, when speaking with him he made it clear that it was the spiritual component at Notre Dame that made the school such a unique institution and the place he wanted to call “home.”  He told me he could feel the presence of Mary on campus and could see it in the good works of the students.  

I think Frank is right about Mary’s presence, but Frank (and others like him who are called to visit our beloved home) also exemplify the devotion of Mary.  In his book “Seasons of Hope,” Frank wrote, “Just show up when someone is hurting.  Be creative versus competitive.  Be constantly grateful.  If you experience a perceived failure and remain grateful something better will come along.  When times are really tough prove how great you can be by remaining positive.  Service makes you powerful, gratitude makes you invincible.  Be true to yourself.  Love yourself.  Put on your helmet every day and go out there and be proud of yourself for having the courage to enter the game.”  How fitting it was that Frank died on the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, a day devoted to honoring our Mother.  In a year that has already been consumed by turmoil and unrest we should all look to Frank Bice as an example of how to live a life of grace, mercy, courage and love – the essence of our Notre Dame experience. 

Elizabeth Boyle


Jan. 14

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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