Over the last several years, a team of 2015 Notre Dame graduates from a variety of backgrounds and fields have joined forces to create and develop a Catholic meditation app that may be the refuge many need, particularly during dark and desperate times.
The app is appropriately named Hallow, which means “to make holy,” and is made up of 100 percent Catholic content. According to Hallow CEO and co-creator Alex Jones, he and his team have one clear mission: “To let God hallow our lives, and to let others do the same.”
Jones works closely alongside former classmates Alessandro DiSanto, who oversees growth of the app, and Erich Kerekes, the chief technology officer. Jones, a mechanical engineer, and Kerekes, a computer science engineer, respectively, both worked at McKinsey after graduation. DiSanto studied finance before going on to work at Goldman Sachs and later in private equity. All three were primed for major promotions prior to embarking on their Hallow journey.
So, what was it that made these incredibly successful young adults quit their high-level jobs and start a Catholic meditation app? “Honestly, it was mostly the good old Holy Spirit’s work there,” Jones said with confidence. “I was raised Catholic but only in the sense that my mom dragged me to church on Sundays.”
He even admits that he was an atheist and an agnostic from a philosophy perspective “for most of high school and my time at Notre Dame.” Yet, he credits Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Pete McCormick, C.S.C., who was serving as his rector in Keough Hall at the time, along with a combination of several powerful philosophy and theology classes and late-night discussions with intelligent friends that “cracked opened the door” for him.
The Hallow team also features Abby and Joe Fredrickson, both of whom studied theology and lead in content development, Bryan Enriquez, who heads community development. Even further, DiSanto and Enriquez were the best men at Jones’ wedding, which was to another Notre Dame grad.
Hallow’s creation can ultimately be traced back to Jones’ craving for entrepreneurship, his interest in strategy, and his experience with Headspace, the meditation app he’d been using at the time. From there, he began reaching out to Notre Dame rectors, priests, brothers, and sisters, and researching to learn that faith and meditation have actually been intersecting for over 2,000 years.
“There's all this really cool stuff to pray and meditate that I just had never heard of, and it totally changed my life,” Jones said. “The first time I tried Lectio Divina I just broke down in tears; it was a completely life-changing experience. And from there I thought, how can we share this with people and do it in a way that builds something to help as many people as we can?”
“Lectio Divina” means “Sacred Reading,” and it’s a traditional practice of encountering the Bible and God through meditation and prayer.
One phone call later, Kerekes was on board. After another call, DiSanto and Enriquez, his best men and fellow Keough residents, were ready to get started. The Fredricksons followed, with Abby even serving as a voice guide on the app.
The app launched in December 2018 after about a year of development, and Jones was clear about the impact it’s had on his life.
“To me what it's really done is, it showed that … if you're really looking for true peace, and purpose and relationship and joy and love, the foundation of that is in Christ, is in God, and is in your faith, and if you start there, the other things flow out from that.”
Hallow is suitable for both iOS and Android devices, and boasts more than 300 sessions ranging in length from five, 10, or 15 minutes. There are daily Gospel and rosary features, and the content within the app includes a variety of different Christian meditation techniques, including the Examen, Lectio Divina, spiritual writing, Taize chant, and more. “Praylists” are also available, covering topics such as humility or calmness, and the app enables you to add background music to any session and learn about certain prayers in the “Challenges” section. There is also a section in the app dedicated to journal writing, progress tracking, and goal creation.
One of the biggest challenges Hallow faced in its early stages was ensuring its content was fully in line with Catholic church teaching while also appealing to younger generations. It took countless hours working with authors, teachers, and professors to make sure the app was aesthetically pleasing, and also with clergy members to create the right content.
The Hallow team also has built partnerships and strong relationships with faith-related groups on campus, such as the Notre Dame Vision program and the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), as well as the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“Father Pete, in particular, has been super helpful,” Jones said. “Bishop Kevin Rhodes, who's the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend is one of our key advisors. He’s a huge partner in terms of making sure or figuring out the best content to create and helping us to do that and then connect with the right people within the church world. He connected us actually back to Father Kevin Grove at Notre Dame, who is a Holy Cross priest who is just a genius with theology and the contemplative life.”
Jones said one of the main things they’re always thinking about how to do the right way is to stay true to their mission while also sustaining themselves and growing. Hallow is a freemium app, downloadable for free with the option of unlocking additional premium content with various subscription options. Jones and his team want to provide their service “to help those on the margins of society who can’t afford it,” while also maintaining growth and their livelihoods.
While Hallow is an app designed as “a resource for everyone,” two main audiences have emerged. The first is made up of people with similar stories to Jones himself, those fascinated by meditation, contemplation, and reflection, and are in search of a way to peacefully integrate it into their faith life. The other main group is those who pray every day and take their faith seriously but are “searching for a kind of deeper spirituality, a deeper sense of peace, a real relationship with God of contemplation.”
“We’ve already been able to interact with and reach more people, and the number of notes we’ve gotten back on how stuff has changed people’s lives is just incredibly humbling. It’s way beyond anything that I ever thought that we would have been able to do,” Jones said.
Jones and his team are optimistic about the future, and they see an opportunity to help bring people back to their faith.
“I think there’s this real opportunity to change the tide of the church. I think we're one very small part of that. But hopefully we can help kind of bring that beauty that the Church has and the faith has to people in a new and approachable way.”
For the success Jones and his colleagues have so far experienced, they are hesitant to take credit. Instead, it’s reserved for a very special member of the team.
“All of the credit for any of the good stuff that we're doing is just totally out of our hands. God has just done all of it,” he says. “Any other credit for anything good goes to Him. ... We have a phenomenal team who I'm so lucky to get to work with, and we've got a guy in charge who is a lot smarter than I am.