John Bellairs Wiki
John Bellairs Wiki

The University of Notre Dame du Lac (or simply Notre Dame) is a Catholic university located near South Bend, Indiana, in the United States. In French, Notre Dame du Lac means "Our Lady of the Lake" and refers to the university's patron saint, the Virgin Mary. The main campus covers 1,250 acres in a suburban setting.

John Bellairs began his undergraduate studies at the university starting in the fall of 1956 and graduated in the spring 1959 commencement.


Founded in 1842 by Edward Sorin as an all-male institution, Notre Dame is adjacent to the city of South Bend and covers 1,250 acres with two lakes and 136 buildings, including the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (completed in 1888) and the Main Building (completed in 1879) with its famed Golden Dome, both campus landmarks that remain from Bellairs's time on campus.

The university is affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross order.

Student Life

Residence halls

All on-campus undergraduates lived in one of the single-sex residence halls.  During Bellairs's era on campus, the all-male university designated different halls to different classes (e.g. freshmen, sophomore) and, dependent on grades, students from their sophomore-year forward could select their preferred dormitory and room on the basis of grades.  Every hall housed a rector and had its own chapel and liturgical schedule with masses celebrated multiple times per week during the academic year.

Dormitory life was a new experience for freshmen like Bellairs and Alfred Myers. Coming and going during the day between classes or free time was usually uneventful. That all changed at night: all doors with the exception of the main entrance locked at ten o'clock and a room check would immediately follow, identifying those students who chose to break curfew.

Night watchmen sat by doors with a list of students who had not been checked-in. When you entered, you signed a sheet and the watchman entered the time, so that all who arrived later than midnight could be punished. Once such watchman was Walt, an elderly and unpopular guardian at the door of Sorin. At various times during the night, he would patrol the corridors to make sure that nothing sinister was happening. Like many of the old guys Notre Dame hired to do this kind of work, Walt identified himself as a Guardian of the System and was quite officious with students. All watchmen dressed in cop-like uniforms and some were reputed to be retired South Bend patrolmen. They certainly relished their role as assistant disciplinarians, and some, like Walt, lived it to the hilt[1].

As an added incentive for students to mind regular bedtimes, electricity would then be cut off to dorm rooms at eleven o'clock.

"It would of course have been unsafe to turn off the electricity in an entire dormitory and plunge it into blackness. Suppose someone got sick? So there were two wiring systems: one for the lights and outlets in all the students' rooms, and another for the corridors and bathrooms. Only the first was shut off at night.[2]"

The necessities of academic life being what they are, in the sophomore, junior, and senior halls, it was a tolerated common practice for students to move their chairs out into the corridors when the lights went out to continue studying or goof off quietly. Both Bowen and Myers recall many a late night when students moved tables and typewriters into the bathrooms and worked there to finish papers. In addition to all of this, there were rules against making noise in the dormitories even when you were allowed to be awake -- a quiet and studious atmosphere must be fostered. If you felt rambunctious, there were places outside to go and play sports.

Each undergraduate residence hall had a rector, with a proctor stationed on each floor - both were either priests or brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Also, a few bachelor professors lived in suites in the residence halls among students, professor of English Frank O'Malley being the most famous. Halls also had their own chapel for daily Mass. Though attendance was optional, it was very much encouraged with the not-so-subtle requirement of "morning mass checks" two or three times a week:

"You had to appear - fully dressed and awake - at a little table where a student sat and have your name checked off. This table just so happened to be outside the door to the chapel, and the time when you were required to appear just so happened to be immediately before the 7:00 morning Mass. We were not required to attend Mass, just required to show up ready to attend. Clever, no? These checks became a non-issue after the freshman year, as the 'job' of attendance taking was given to student athletes who checked off the entire dormitory whether anyone showed up or not. I don't believe I went through this routine even once in my final three years, and I never got in trouble about that. Nobody did. It must have been obvious to the priests who supervised the dormitories that everyone was getting credited for showing up when hardly anyone ever did. I suspect that they didn't complain because they were a bit ashamed of this transparent ploy. There were always some students at morning Mass; they were the ones who came because they wanted to be there. I doubt that anyone ever went to Mass just because of a morning check. I know that, after the first couple of weeks of my freshman year, I always turned around and went back to my room -- and possibly got back in bed again![2]"

Residents were also given handbooks, leaflets, pamphlets, and sermons urging the "Right Sort of Behavior". Bowen recalls that at the beginning of every semester students found, slid under their doors, a sheet of paper with a handy matrix for recording their class schedule.

"Above the chart was a diagram that urged us to 'Break This Vicious Circle With Planned Living!' The circle was surrounded by numbered stages in the progress of moral decay, from minor self-indulgence (such as sleeping late, one assumes) all the way to Sin. I remember one friend remarking that some of the stages in the middle sounded quite a bit worse than mere sin; the only one I can remember (about halfway around) was 'whining self-love.'

Bowen also recalls the Religious Bulletin provided each week with sermons that were well-meaning but many "found condescending and offensive."[2]"

Bellairs on Campus


During the 1955-56 school year, Bellairs lived in Zahm Hall with roommate Ronald Cardwell.


Eddie Fisher (Dome, 1956)

The following people and groups visited the campus[3].

  • Entertainers Eddie Fisher and wife, Debbie Reynolds (Sep. 1955)
  • His Beatitude Maximos IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East (Oct.)
  • O'Laughlin Auditorium on the campus of Saint Mary's College held its grand opening on October 11 and featured the NBC Opera Company's production of The Marriage of Figaro[4].
    • "In one day they presented two operas sung in English, La Traviata in the afternoon and The Marriage of Figaro in the evening. After a lifetime of addiction to classical music I can now appreciate what splendid theatrical experiences these were, but Bellairs and I were both classical neophytes at the time. We attended both operas. I remember that John liked La Traviata well enough but was not expecting much from Figaro. Of course he wound up being entranced by it, as audiences have been for more than 200 years.[1]"
  • Singer, lecturer, and educator Zelma Watson George (Dec.)
  • Slavic folk songs and dances by Duquesne University Tamburitzans (Pittsburgh, PA) (Nov.)
  • Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) (Dec.)
  • Noted Catholic lay theologian and author Frank Sheed (Nov.-Dec.)
  • Singer Andrew Foldi (April)
  • Merce Cunningham Dancers (May)
  • General Curtis E. LeMay (Patriot of the Year, 1956)[5]


During the 1956-57 school year, Bellairs lived in Howard Hall. At some point he was a tutor in English[6], and worked in the cafeteria to supplement his finances.


Richard Nixon (Dome, 1957)

Ingrid Goude (Dome, 1957)

Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton (Dome, 1957)

The following people and groups visited the campus[7].

  • Author and philosopher Jacques Maritain
  • Richard Nixon, Vice-president and 1956 Republican vice-presidential nominee (Oct.)
    • "I particularly remember [John's] fondness for Frank O'Malley's wisecrack when Nixon visited the campus.  O'Malley had released his class that afternoon with the remark that, 'It's not every day that the Beast of the Apocalypse comes to the campus.'[1]"
  • Adlai Stevenson II, 1956 Democratic presidential nominee (Oct.)
  • Marian McKnight, 1957 Miss America (Jan.)
  • Dancer Jose Greco
  • Ingrid Goude, 1956 Miss Sweden winner and second runner-up 1956 Miss Universe (Mar.)
  • Musician Louis Armstrong, with singer Velma Middleton (spring)
    • "This was the era of his great album, Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy. He performed to a packed crowd in Notre Dame's old basketball gymnasium and had the audience eating out of his hand. He reserved his singer, the formidable Velma Middleton, until the second half of his concert. She and Louis were outrageous together...they were great entertainers, and more importantly, great musicians.[1]"
  • Senator John F. Kennedy (Patriot of the Year, 1957)[5]


During the 1957-58 school year, Bellairs lived in Sorin Hall.


Richard Dyer-Bennet (Dome, 1958)

The following people and groups visited the campus[8].

  • Pianists Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher (Jan.)
  • Folk musician Richard Dyer-Bennett (Feb. 21)
    • Bellairs later met Dyer-Bennett and escorted him around one of the campuses where he later taught.  "The Vicar of Bray" was one of Bellairs’s favorite songs, it being about a clergyman who survives the several waves of English religious wars by shifting his allegiances in order to keep his job[1].
  • Varel and Bailly with the Chanteurs de Paris, a European vocal group (Mar. 1958)
  • Senate Investigator Robert F. Kennedy (Patriot of the Year, 1958)[5]


During the 1958-59 school year, Bellairs was again a resident in Sorin Hall.


Bellairs was one of many Notre Dame seniors who were the recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, a scholarship granted nationwide in the 1950s to highly qualified students who were considering a teaching career. Those awarded the fellowship had their names inscribed upon a plaque still found in O'Shaughnessy Hall, home of the College of Arts and Letters.

Bellairs graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree (AB) on June 7, 1959. He chose to continue his education in a city he had visited numerous times as a undergraduate: Chicago. Bellairs began coursework for his masters degree that fall at the University of Chicago.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Correspondence with Alfred Myers.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Correspondence with Charles Bowen.
  3. "The Dome", University of Notre Dame (1956).
  4. "History of Moreau Center for the Arts", Saint Mary's College.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Patriot of the Year Recipients", University of Notre Dame.
  6. "Academic Record Form for Indiana University Center Faculty" (Jul. 23, 1960).
  7. "The Dome", University of Notre Dame (1957).
  8. "The Dome", University of Notre Dame (1958).