By LOU PONSI     6/18/2024

MATER DEI HIGH SCHOOL’S senior picnic gives graduating seniors the opportunity to be together as a class for a final time in a casual setting to celebrate and be celebrated.


As a long-standing tradition at Orange County’s oldest Catholic high school, the Monarchs’ class of 2024 gathered in the Grotto after finals on May 29 to reminisce, give thanks to teachers, sign classmates’ yearbooks and exchange final hugs.

It’s the one day when school uniforms are not required and many graduating Monarchs wear the attire of the college or university they’ll be attending, said Allison Bergeron, director of communications and media relations at Mater Dei.

“Some of these kids have been in a Catholic school uniform since they were in TK or kindergarten,” said Bergeron, a Mater Dei alumna herself. “So today, they can pretty much wear whatever they want and then they take pictures with their classmates and just have one last meal together before heading into Baccalaureate Mass.”

The Baccalaureate Mass is also a Mater Dei tradition, in which seniors celebrate Mass together as a class for a final time.

“Today I think it’s a culmination of each other’s collective success in our classes, but also in terms of friendship, because this may be some of the last times that we’ll get to be with each other as a senior class, apart from graduation and Baccalaureate Mass,” said senior Kobe Castillo, whose been attending Catholic school since kindergarten. “So, I think it’s truly a gathering of friendship.”

Castillo, who was named Mater Dei’s Catholic Young May of the Year, plans to attend community college for a year and then enter the seminary where he will study to become a priest.

“It’s a deep honor,” Castillo said of the distinction. “But it’s God’s will and He gave me that privilege so His will be done. I am a servant of the Lord.”

Hailey Mouat, who was honored as the Catholic Young Woman of the Year, said her favorite memories at Mater Dei include her involvement with the campus ministry.

‘I’ve led a bunch of retreats and campus ministry is just my second home on campus,” said Mouat, who will attend Auburn University in the fall. “I’ve met some really good people and it’s just given me so much, such a good opportunity to get closer to God and really strengthen my relationship with Him while being here.”

Teacher Ben De Los Reyes, who teaches religion to sophomore and senior classes, said the senior picnic gives teachers the chance to celebrate students’ accomplishments and get excited about their futures.

“We love our students and the senior class of 2024, as much as any class, has been a wonderful pleasure to be with in these past four years,” De Los Reyes said. “We will miss them, definitely, but it is more of a celebration of them than it is anything sad.”

Senior Sophie Bunnell transferred to Mater Dei for her senior year. Bunnell was a impressive water polo player for the Monarchs and hopes to play at the University of Michigan. The standout athlete said she will miss her diverse group friends at Mater Dei.

“I think that the most special part of Mater Dei is that there’s friends for every type of person,” Bunnell said. “You can be the most unique person in the world and find people that appreciate that. I think that’s something that’s made my senior year so amazing. I think that this school fosters so many opportunities to make friendships and connections that I never thought I’d be able to make in one year. It’s bittersweet. I’m excited to be graduating and to be moving on but at the same time I wish I had more time here.”