By John BurtonATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Fifty years ago a young, fledgling Catholic school was sending its first young charges into the world. And now, half a century later many returned to share memories and stories of their lives outside of what was then Mater Dei High School and to hear the music of their time with a reunion of a popular local band of the period.“It really is kind of uplifting seeing everyone,” observed Bob Ballweg, Santa Cruz, California, a Class of ’65 alumnus, Mater Dei’s first graduating class, as he surveyed the room of former classmates and their spouses.“It doesn’t make you feel old,” seeing old friends, Ballweg said. “Just the opposite. I feel young seeing everyone.”Members of the Class of 1965, the first graduating class of what is now Mater Dei Prep Catholic High SchoolMater Dei 50th Reunion. Photo: John BurtonTom Dooley, a Middletown resident and facilitator for the reunion committee, said the 1965 class has lost 10 members and ’66 has had 11 deaths.Along with those activities the crowd had a chance to hear from The Mods, who used the classes’ reunion as an opportunity for its own reunion after about 15 years of not performing together.The Mods was a popular rock and roll band made up of musicians from Rumson, Sea Bright and Middletown and the surrounding area, playing covers of the hot music of the ‘60s at what was then called The Oaks, a teen club at what is now McGuires Grove apartment complex, Highway 35, in Middletown, and other happening venues of the period.Ray Belicose, a member of Mater Dei’s class of ’66 who lives in Maine, was a drummer with The Mods back in the day. He returned for the reunion because “I wanted to see my old friends from school,” he said, “and to give them some of the music we use to dance to in the ‘60s.”“We were something then,” remembered lead singer, guitarist and piano player Richard Lillie. Lillie graduated from Rumson High School in 1964 and now lives in Irvine, California. He had performed with the band from 1964 to 1973, singing about 37 of the approximately 40 songs the band performed a night.By 1974 the group members began going their separate ways. “Like everyone else you have to move on,” Lillie acknowledged.The Mods, a legendary local rock and roll band of the 1960s, have their own reunion as they got together and performed at the Shore Casino last Saturday evening for members of Mater Dei High School classes of 1965 and 1966, who were having their class reunion. Photo: John BurtonHe traveled back to New Jersey with his wife, Pam, for one last show, for old times’ sake and to perform with Pam, who planned to sing a few numbers herself. And he maintained, “I never lost my voice,” but suspecting “This is probably my last show,” giving it up after the evening. “I’ll probably be in bed all day tomorrow,” recuperating,Lillie suspected. Middletown resident Robert Dobson, Class of ’65, and member of the reunion committee, pointed out as the high school’s first class, the students had no upperclassmen and didn’t even have a building at that point.“We had nobody ahead of us to teach us the bad ways,” classmate Sally Harris offered with a good-natured wink.Dobson recalled his classes were conducted in St. Mary’s grammar school until 1964, when what is now the high school structure, on Cherry Tree Farm Road was completed.There were 110 students in the 1965 class and 113 students were in the 1966 class.“One of the things I really appreciated was the quality of the teachers we had back then,” Dobson said. Back then it was mostly Franciscan nuns responsible for most of the classes and Dobson remembered his math teacher, Sister Rosemary, had a Ph.D. in mathematics. “How many had a math teacher with that background?”“What I liked was the small school environment,” Dooley offered. “Everybody knew everybody else.” Reunion plans began last winter just as Bishop David M. O’Connell announced the high school’s pending permanent closing in June due to money and enrollment woes, Dooley said. And “We never should have gotten to the point where we got that call,” he acknowledged. But things seem to be on track, with a newly established board of directors and financial oversight, seeming to give the privately run Catholic high school another chance to continue. “I believe it is on firm financial and organizational grounds,” at this point, Dooley continued.Margo Dooley and her husband, Tom, were high school sweethearts who married after college. She was a cheerleader back then and Tom was on the track team. Reminiscing with old friends, “It’s like 50 years haven’t really passed,” she said.