This Year, Will ‘Hallow’ Be Thy App? Silence, Spiritual Growth Are Hallmarks of Popular Prayer Aid
The Catholic app is meeting the digital age’s hunger for authentic spirituality and is already transforming lives, according to founder and CEO Alex Jones.
CHICAGO — A new year brings about new resolutions, and for many Catholics looking to jump-start a new life of prayer and meditation, the “Hallow” app may be just the ticket.
Alex Jones, a Catholic entrepreneur who fell away from his faith before rediscovering it through learning about Catholic meditation, is the CEO and co-founder of Hallow, which touts itself as the No. 1 Catholic prayer and meditation app completely rooted in the Church’s spirituality, teaching and tradition.
The Chicago-based company raised more than $50 million in 2021 to develop the app even further and expand its reach. Hallow is overseen by a board of advisers led by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, and features Catholic content from Bishop Robert Barron, The Chosen’s Jonathan Roumie, Father Josh Johnson, and much more.
In this interview with the Register, Jones shares the story behind Hallow, his own faith journey and the big plans ahead for the Catholic prayer and meditation app.
What’s the story behind Hallow? How did you come up with this app for prayer that contains a great many things?
I definitely did not come up with it. God did. He just beat me over the head with it ’til I did something about it! But the story of Hallow is pretty intertwined with my own faith journey.
I was raised Catholic by my saint of a mother, but fell away from my faith pretty heavily in high school, college and a little bit after. Probably I would have considered myself atheist or agnostic for most of that time. Now, this is a little bit of a simplification, but I started getting fascinated with the idea of meditation. Sadly, my mind did not first go to St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but to secular meditation. It was the really early days of “Headspace” and “Calm,” which are these secular mindfulness meditation apps, so I tried them.
The tool itself was a really helpful way to sit still for 10 minutes and learn this type of mindfulness meditation technique in the comfort of your own home, feeling like you had a personal guide: Just plug in your headphones, and press “play.” Mindfulness meditation is mostly focused on the breath, and then you let your mind go at the end; but every time I would meditate, and stop thinking about all the stuff I had to do, or all the worries or anxieties or distracting myself with YouTube or Netflix, my mind would feel oddly pulled towards something spiritual, something Christian or Trinitarian.
I had an image of the Holy Spirit or the cross or something like that, which I thought was incredibly strange, because [at the time] I still would have considered myself agnostic. So I started talking to priests, brothers, sisters, friends, whom I knew were deeper in their faith life, and asking this question, “Hey, is there an intersection between this faith thing and this meditation thing?” And they all said, “Yeah, prayer: We’ve been doing it for 2,000 years — you probably should have heard about it.”
So what did you do next?
I started to learn all about this kind of rich, beautiful tradition of contemplative and meditative prayer within the Church that I’d honestly never heard of before. So things like lectio divina [prayerful reading of Scripture], Carmelite spirituality’s prayer for recollection, chants, Gregorian chant, Ignatian spirituality, imaginative prayer [placing yourself in a Gospel story, for example], the Examen — all these things.
I sat down one day and Googled “how to do lectio divina.” And I randomly opened up Scripture to where Christ teaches us the Lord’s Prayer. In lectio divina, you pick a word that sticks out to you, and you meditate on it, and “hallowed” was the word that stuck out to me. And it [“hallow”] just changed my life. It brought me to tears; brought me back to my faith. The faith is the most important part of who I am now — it changed everything obviously, about what I do in my relationships, everything I value.
I would argue that I felt this sense of peace, much deeper than I had ever experienced before with any other sort of meditation. But combined with this depth of meaning and purpose, I was wrestling with something concrete: Hallow means “to make holy.” [I thought] “Was God making me holy? Am I letting him make me holy? Am I supposed to be helping other people grow in virtue?” I was struggling with these big questions, but in this sense of peace.
So, anyway, that was the idea behind Hallow. It was pretty obvious from that point we needed to try to build something, even if just for ourselves. I had known how to code a little bit, but took a bit of a two-week crash course and built a very terrible version of it. Our engineer has since deleted all of our [original] code and made it a lot better. But that was the original idea. And I think the thing that gets us excited is the opportunity to lead with (especially with young folks or folks who have fallen away from their faith) the kind of beautiful peace in spirituality that our Church and our faith has to offer — and to help folks find a little bit of grace in their lives.
An online search for meditation really brought you back to your Catholic faith. Do you think that kind of search speaks to a lot of people today?
I think what we see when we look at the studies, like Pew, the percentage of folks who consider themselves religious is declining rapidly. But it’s not replaced by a group of folks who would consider themselves atheist or agnostic. That is relatively constant. The big increase is this new group of folks who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. I do think that points to this fascination in this interest with spirituality. And there is definitely a point that should be made.
As soon as I started becoming deeper in Catholic spirituality, I was brought back to the beauty and power of the Mass and the sacraments like confession — all of the pieces of religion and all of the beautiful theology behind it. I do think that data is speaking to this hunger for spirituality.
I do think people are really hungry for a lot of things that our faith offers, and there’s a real opportunity to lead with the peace that Christ brings: “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. So I think there’s a real hunger for that, and I don’t think there’s a better answer for it than learning to sit in silence with God.
How did you settle on these five components of the Hallow app? You have prayer, meditation, music, Bible, and — one that might surprise people — sleep.
At the very beginning, the core was the experience that I had. So lectio divina, the Examen, Ignatian spirituality and certain pieces of Carmelite spirituality. We then built the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet into the core of prayer and meditative content. That’s really where we started — my experience.
But our goal at Hallow is to try to reach out to folks, especially folks who maybe don’t take their faith that seriously, or have fallen away from their faith, in as creative and unique away as we can: to invite them to bring their faith into other aspects of their lives. So I think the sleep [component] was actually a big one.
“Calm” and “Headspace” and some of the secular meditation apps have done a solid job of doing what they call “sleep stories.” They read a kind of narrative story to help you fall asleep. A lot of people will watch Netflix, listen to the radio, or whatever it is [to fall asleep]. We had the idea of “what if we could help folks to close their day — or in the middle of the night, if they wake up stressed and anxious — with Scripture or meditations on the saints.”
I would argue that’s a lot better way to close your day and, hopefully, leads to better dreams. But it’s also an opportunity to invite God into your life. Now, religion is not a sleeping aid by any means. But letting Christ kind of lead you at the end of your day into a peaceful rest, we’ve seen a lot of folks get really excited about that.
The music piece is very similar, as folks are listening to Apple Music or Spotify while they’re working or during the day. So that is an opportunity for us to help them to use that as a time of prayer with either Gregorian chant, classic hymns or whatever.
And then [the] Bible [component] was always something that actually came mostly from folks on the app that were just saying, “Hey, you know, we love these daily Gospel meditations, or lectio divina, but we’d love to dive deeper into Scripture.” And so we’re working with Ascension to have The Bible in a Year [podcast] available on the app, Jonathan Roumie’s (from The Chosen) audio Bible, and a bunch of others to help folks dive deeper into Scripture. So “Bible” is one that folks have really found useful in deepening their relationship with God.
Tell me more about the community aspect of Hallow. How does that work?
What we’ve taken from Scripture, and what we’ve always believed, is that this journey in our relationship with God is not a solo journey. It’s meant to be done in community, especially prayer. And, for us, we want Hallow to always be a place of peace away from kind of the busyness and stress of Facebook and Instagram; you know: “How many likes or comments today?” or getting in arguments about politics or things like that. We never wanted to turn into that. But what we do want is to help people as much as we can to journey through the content with other folks. And so that’s how we’ve built out the app.
There’s a free version and a paid version of Hallow: What’s the difference between the two?
So you can download the app for free and access a ton of content — hundreds of meditations, if not over 1,000. There’s everything from the daily Gospel to the daily Rosary, daily Mass readings, some awesome selections on music, and a couple of the Bible stories at night. We have a ton of really phenomenal content, all of the features, the daily routine, the group, the community functionality, all of that stuff. And then, if you choose, you can upgrade to what we call the “Hallow Plus” subscription, which is $60 a year or a monthly plan of $9. It comes with a free trial period so you can sign up for Hallow Plus if you want to give it a try and see if the contents are worth it. But if you do subscribe, it unlocks the full suite of content, which is 3,000+ meditations. There’s a ton of amazing content on there.
Where do you hope things go from here?
At the end of the day, God has already taken this thing considerably further than we ever thought. And we’re humbled every day to be a part of this ride. But the big vision for us is just helping as many folks as possible to find peace in God, helping as many folks as possible to become saints, and helping as many folks as possible to both be in heaven and to find heaven here on earth.
For us, that’s just continuing to create more opportunities within the app to help folks to bring God into more places in their life.
And we continue to reach out to a much broader group of folks. We had somebody just write us who was a practicing Muslim who had converted to the faith. He credited the app. We know a Protestant pastor who had converted to Catholicism because of the app.
We have folks who are struggling with depression and anxiety, folks who are near death, or have lost loved ones, able to find peace in their life. We had someone a couple of days ago who hadn’t been to church in 30 years; they started praying with the app and meditating on the app and went to confession for the first time and then church right after. They described the app as an arrow sent straight from the Holy Spirit into their soul and couldn’t be more thankful.
So, for us, it’s really just trying to help as many folks as we can to find peace in their lives and to grow deeper in their relationship with God.
Hallow is available on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon. For more information, visit Hallow.com.