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Celebrating the Life and Legacy of an Extraordinary Man

Kelly Slonaker

On Sunday, February 14, Canterbury hosted a virtual memorial service to celebrate beloved alumnus, teacher, coach, advisor, colleague, friend, and mentor, Deacon Francis X. Bice ’77. Frank passed away on January 1, 2020, and was an integral part of the Canterbury community. The service, which was originally planned to be held on campus last spring, was attended by current students, faculty, and staff and was recorded and broadcast to the greater community.

The service began with a Mass presided by Fr. Mark Connell, followed by a rendition of the School song, “Cantuaria Floreat.” Head of School Rachel Stone spoke of the undeniable impact Frank had on the School: “We all have countless memories of Frank and the ways in which his presence in our lives offered a blend of lessons that we often needed to hear: kindness and accountability, conviction and self-deprecation, affirmation and forgiveness. It is in this way that he influenced the Canterbury community and lived the School’s values. It is why we hear time and again reflections on Frank’s life that celebrate his infectious optimism and resilient spirit.” 

Rachel also shared her favorite memories of Frank: “There is one image of Frank that I carry most closely. Even on chilly days, if the sun was bright, Frank would find a spot that allowed the sun to shine upon his face—with his dog, Kelly, on his lap—and he would literally soak it in. I can’t say for certain, but the narrative I believe is that for Frank, those moments were about prayer, the simple gift of warmth for body and soul, and a reminder that we all should pause more often to allow God’s gifts to shine upon us.”

Rachel then welcomed former Head of School, Thomas J. Sheehy III, to speak. Tom and Frank had a longstanding friendship that began when Frank was a high school freshman at Cranwell School, MA, and Tom, a faculty member there, coached him in JV basketball. The two crossed paths again at Canterbury in 1991 when Frank, having just left the seminary, approached Tom as the newly appointed Head of School about a position teaching Spanish and theology. “Upon meeting Frank, one was immediately struck by his positive can-do attitude and his ability to connect with people,” Tom said. “His grounding in his faith fueled him even through the most difficult times and situations. His disability served to strengthen his resolve to serve, teach and learn. He would never allow it to be an impediment. He always had a knack for when a student or fellow faculty member needed a pat on the back or a caring listener. To all who knew or met him he was the consummate role model. His life was based on a set of values that provided all those with whom he dealt a clear path to follow.”

The service was also attended by Terrence “Rence” Reagan ’77, a classmate of Frank’s who likened his infectious enthusiasm, generosity, and care for others to the pull of gravity. Rence changed schools (twice) to follow the irresistible force that emanated from Frank and considered him one of his closest friends. “When Frank got hurt, I was on the football field with him,” Rence recalled. “And when he was taken to the hospital, they let me see him in the emergency room. He knew that he was paralyzed yet was curiously unconcerned about that. He said that he asked God to let him live, and if he lived, he would spend the rest of his life saying yes to whatever He asked.” 

Rence ’77 went on to describe the importance of Frank in the life of each person he pulled towards him: “He taught with impact, having yearbook after yearbook dedicated to him. He went on to extraordinary greatness as a scholar, a teacher, Deacon, philanthropist, as an orator and an author. But his greatness has spread far beyond him. Ask any Cantuarian that has become trapped in Frank’s gravity. [. . .] It turns out that the closer you are to Frank, the more Frank-like you become: more generous, more outgoing, more helpful, and much more empathetic to others.”

The service concluded with a moving video tribute to Frank, filmed and produced by alumnus Will Dowler ’18. The video featured members of the extended Canterbury community, who shared their fondest memories of Frank and his profound impact, including faculty member Julio Omaña; alumni Alex Pitser ’18, Emily Martino ’17, Sarah (Loomis) Crawford ’94, Tim Sheehan ’94, Chris McManus ’93, and Shane Sellar ’15; former classmates Larry Fisher ’77 and Chris O’Brien ’77; and nephew Michael Noonan ’90. Many others joined in—alumni, parents, current and former faculty and staff—by sharing a myriad of words and phrases that summed up how they describe the life and legacy of their adored mentor and friend.  

With the help and generosity of a few friends of Frank, the Francis X. Bice ’77 Scholarship Fund has been established to keep Frank’s legacy impacting Canterbury for generations to come. The entire Canterbury community misses this great man and will forever cherish his imprint on this School. To make a contribution and to watch the memorial service, please visit cbury.org/frankbice.