John Bellairs headed to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in the fall of 1955, where - according to his high school yearbook - he would be hard at work studying pre-law.

This story would have had a different and potentially uninteresting ending had this interest continued.

Perhaps we have legendary Notre Dame instructor Francis J. O'Malley to thank. O'Malley's classes were famous for awakening a sense of understanding and appreciation for the written word and were still revered by former students decades later. Many of the students enrolled in his classes - such as Bellairs in O'Malley's freshman-level Rhetoric and Composition class – shared a bond remaining well beyond their four years of undergraduate study.

Under O'Malley's spell, Bellairs's interest in English literature and writing blossomed. By his junior year (1957-58), Bellairs had become a member of the Bookmen, a long-running campus organization dedicated to literary study and critique. As a senior (1958-59), he continued his membership with the Bookmen and joined the staff of the student magazine, the Scholastic. With the Scholastic came some of Bellairs's earliest published work: a bi-weekly column consisting of humorous stories, witty anecdotes, and interactions with the people and places around the Notre Dame campus.

On Campus

Go Bellairs! Quote Chaucer!

During his senior year, Bellairs and four other students took part in the nationally televised College Quiz Bowl program, where university students competed against another in varying subjects. The most memorable moment of the March 8, 1959, broadcast between Notre Dame and Georgetown University occurred when Bellairs startled the national viewing audience by quoting Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in perfect Middle English. Well, not all of it, just the first eighteen lines or so.

Flourishing To The Height Of His Degree

In June 1959, Bellairs graduated Magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree (AB) in English. He also received the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, a postgraduate scholarship granted nationwide in the 1950s to highly qualified students considering a teaching career. For graduate school, Bellairs chose a city he'd visited several times over the past four years: Chicago. Bellairs was back in the thorough of academia by October when he began work for the Master's degree in English at the University of Chicago.

During his undergraduate years, Bellairs traveled numerous times from South Bend to Chicago, each time passing through the industrial hotbed of Gary, Indiana. Following his graduation from the University of Chicago the following summer, Bellairs began his first part-time teaching position at Indiana University Northwest.

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