Deaths in the family

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

Jaime Juan Jose Bellalta, a professor emeritus of architecture revered as a mentor, collaborator and friend by a generation of Notre Dame students who took his design studios and courses in sacred architecture, died in March at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was 89.

Bellalta and his wife, the late landscape architect and emerita Professor Esmée Bellalta, joined the faculty in 1976 after leaving his native Chile under duress, bringing with them a lively family of 10 children and a spirit of hospitality that would be much enjoyed by their colleagues and students. Hired in his prime from a distinguished career in professional practice, public service, teaching and academic administration — most recently in Chile, where his designs for the Benedictine monastery at Las Condes contributed to its designation as a National Historic Architectural Monument — Jaime Bellalta made the most of his years at Notre Dame. A modernist and Christian humanist, Bellalta trained his students in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, emphasizing designs for churches, chapels and other sacred spaces that encouraged active participation among the laity. He and his students put many ideas into practice through renovation projects on campus and in nearby parishes.

Bellalta’s Catholic faith and commitment to social justice were equally evident in his work on affordable and low-income housing, another gift he shared with his adopted community in South Bend. “He enlightened our vision, raised our aspirations and taught us to search for the sacred,” a former student wrote. Added another, “My sense of what is beautiful and what is just would be impoverished if not for Jaime.”

C. Lincoln Johnson, an associate professor emeritus of sociology remembered by colleagues as much for his heart as for his devotion to his discipline and who in 1971 was among the first non-Catholics hired to Notre Dame’s sociology faculty, died in March. He was 70.

“Linc” brought needed strength in statistical methods and became a treasured resource for fellow scholars who sought his help with data analysis and management. He was soon tapped to lead what then was called the Social Science Training and Research Laboratory and would later direct the Computer Applications Program for Arts and Letters students.

An ordained Methodist minister and social theorist known for experimental pedagogical techniques — such as once asking his students to take their shoes off in the classroom — Johnson taught at least 16 different courses that reflected his wide-ranging interests in what he called “that interesting intersection between self and society.” His Sociology of Sport class became a department staple. More recently, he converted his interest in the impact of globalization on food systems, a reportedly favorite topic of conversation with dinner guests, into another popular course on the sociology of food. His concern for the hungry extended into his service on the board of South Bend’s Northeast Neighborhood Center Food Pantry. “He was always more than an academic sociologist,” said Professor Andrew Weigert, who taught courses with Johnson and collaborated with him on research in the sociology of religion. “I never heard him say no to any request or idea. He was so easy to work with.”

James H. “Jay” Walton ’59, a professor emeritus of English who taught British literature and the novel for 40 years at his alma mater and who once wryly described himself to a Scholastic writer as “the college professor they warned you about in high school,” died in April at age 74.

Walton swiftly completed his doctoral dissertation on Joseph Conrad at Northwestern and returned to Notre Dame as an instructor in 1963, where he developed a reputation as a demanding but highly approachable professor who made time for all of his students. Long-time colleagues like emeritus Professor Donald Sniegowski admired Walton’s “marvelous range” as a scholar and teacher. His courses covered the works of novelists and poets from Daniel Defoe to Doris Lessing, while his published works spanned an edition of Anglo-Irish political correspondence; a critical study of the Irish romanticist and Gothic storyteller Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu; a novel, Margaret’s Book, set in his native Blue Island, Illinois; and a delightful anthology of Notre Dame poets of the late 20th century entitled The Space Between.

Walton rarely missed an opportunity to downplay such contributions, but his students would have none of it. In the spring of 1971 a Scholastic reviewer offered this enviable assessment of his class on The English Novel to 1845: “Mr. Walton’s impeccably organized and professionally delivered lectures make this course one of the truly outstanding educational experiences of one’s undergraduate career. . . . Consider it a blessing to have James Walton at Notre Dame.”