In these uncertain and strange times, many Catholics find themselves in particular need of pastoral guidance and care as many dioceses have canceled public Masses due to the spread of COVID-19. Regular prayer groups and routines have been disrupted, and our prayer life may be disrupted. One app that is uniquely equipped to meet this need is Hallow.
In 2018, five young Notre Dame alumni founded a startup to help young Catholics practice meditative prayer. In our overcrowded schedules and noisy, busy world, meditation apps—like Headspace, Calm, One Giant Mind—have proliferated. These meditation apps walk users through physical and mental exercises of relaxation.
Hallow provides Christian meditation, which doesn’t just provide us with mental health, but with relationship, a way of carving out space in our day to spend with God. Time spent with God gives a peace that the world—or any meditation app—cannot give.
During this time of uncertainty, Hallow is offering their premium content for free for three months and piloting remote community connections, so that Catholics looking for consistency and community in their prayer lives can access their content.
I sat down with two members of the founding team—Bryan Enriquez, head of customer engagement, success, and community; and Alessandro DiSanto, head of growth, who also leads educational partnerships, and multi-channel marketing efforts.
De Sales: So tell us a bit about Hallow: who are you? And how have you grown?
Alessandro DiSanto: Hallow is a Catholic meditation app that helps users deepen their relationship with God through contemplative prayer; helping both those new to prayer and those with existing prayer routines discover new forms of prayers. Hallow tries to bring ancient—but sometimes forgotten— forms of contemplative prayers into our everyday lives. Hallow also seeks to reach out to others who may not have a natural connection with the Church or may have fallen away from practicing faith. Finally, Hallow reaches those who are looking for the peace and focus that they may have found in secular meditation apps and offers them a focus on spiritual growth.
Bryan Enriquez: “Hallow” means to sanctify or make holy. Hallow is seeking to make our time and our days holy. We’re not the institutional Church, but we are the Church, the Body of Christ. As laity, we asked, what role can we play?
Sometimes Catholics think: “I’m not a priest, I can’t make that much of an impact. But you CAN make an impact. We’re all called to spread the word of Christ in many different forms. We can inspire other people. And that’s how Hallow aims to inspire the Body of Christ.
Hallow was born out of a call. Each of us felt called to do this. We were each ordinary young professionals going about our lives, asking purpose-related questions. We did not know that contemplative prayer existed. But Hallow really was the fruit of a prayerful discernment: to quit our jobs and follow the call to start a contemplative prayer app.
DS: Who are the Hallow listeners? What is the growth you’ve done in the past year?
AD: We’re about evenly split across three age ranges: 18-35; 35-55, and 55+. We have a strong group of Catholic listeners, but our top user is a non-Catholic, an Evangelical Protestant. Some of our top users are Presbyterians, Lutherans, even self-described agnostics.
BE: Our users are an ecumenical, global group: we have users in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and over 50 other countries. Since we launched the app in December of 2018, Hallow has been downloaded over 150,000 times.
AD: We’re the #1 Catholic app in the Apple App Store!
DS: Studies show us that phones increase our distractibility and decrease our attention spans. How do you make Hallow something that enables relationships and not a distraction?
BE: We believe in meeting people where they are. The one place where people definitely are is on their phones. If Jesus had waited at the temple, he would have never found the fisherman.
We’ve designed the app intentionally to disappear. We want you to close your eyes and forget about the phone and just be present in prayer. To that end, we’ve designed the app so that there’s nothing visual. In meditations, we don’t include the words of Scripture, we don’t include scripts or text in any part of the app.
When you open Hallow, you just hit the play button and then can distance yourself from the phone. The physical device in front of you is not important, rather we put the focus on the interior truth that is opening up to you. Like when Elijah goes up to the mountain and hears God in the still, small breeze. In Christian meditation, we’re not just seeking silence, but the voice that speaks to us in the silence. It’s a two-way conversation.
DS: What are your 2020 goals?
AD: We have a couple big goals for 2020. Content-wise, by the end of 2020, we hope to have the majority of content in Spanish to serve the bilingual Latinx community in the USA and beyond. We also plan to continue to build out our sleep-focused content, which allows users to wind down with night with God.
As for growth, we hope to develop our relationships with schools and parishes more. We’re developing programs to support Catholic school teachers in the classroom with Hallow App materials. Mental and spiritual health are two huge challenges for the younger generations and we want to support them in strengthening both.
BE: We are growing our community services for Hallow. We’re offering our first Hallow Retreat this summer. We’re reaching out to Catholic apostolates to build our affiliates programs. The affiliates program offers special benefits to group members. Any organizations that might be interested, should contact us! We’re always looking to expand our community and support others.
A key group of communities that we’re partnering with is parishes. We want to partner with parishes, support their work, and help them grow their faith community in their own way. We’ve created parish kits for parishes to market Hallow to parishes.
And we’re working on group content such as women’s and men’s groups, young adult prayer hours, and bible studies which can be done in person or over the phone. When conducting research, we found the two main barriers we found to faith leaders feeling confident leading a prayer group were: “I don’t have the time” and “I don’t have the words.” Leading groups in prayer can be challenging, and we’re offering the resources to others to lead them. They can be made available by emailing me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This includes our first session which is called the Saints Pack, which features nine sessions of content that each focus on the life of a different Saint and is modeled after our Saints challenge in the app.
DS: What is Hallow Doing for Lent?
AD: This year we’re offering the Pray 40 Challenge – 40 individual sessions for every day of Lent. We’re not going to go through Lent alone, but as a community. During Lent, we’re committing, with the Church, to a daily prayer habit to help us not only grow closer with God, but to develop a healthy relationship with technology.
I asked some of Hallow’s staff to share their Lenten disciplines, and here’s what they had to say.
“Taking only cold showers. Dying to myself a little bit every day helps keep me focused that we are not made to seek only comfort in this world.”
“In addition to giving up alcohol and taking lukewarm, quick showers, I’m committing to saying a quick prayer before I get to bed and right when I wake up, and devoting time twice a week to praying in a group outside of Mass.”
“I’m giving up meat entirely until Easter (This is a big thing for me, I grill out almost every night!) and committing to fasting on Fridays beyond just fasting from meat. I’m trying to not eat anything at all until dinner or around sunset. Additionally, I’m committing to at least 20 minutes of prayer every day, with a particular focus on listening to God and spending time in silence.”
“In addition to committing to daily mass, meditation, and holy hours, I’m fasting entirely on Wednesdays or Fridays, unless I share a meal with someone who’s experiencing homelessness or poverty.”
A sample of a recent week of Hallow’s Lenten programming includes: Meditating on the works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, Mother Teresa’s spirituality, Stations of the Cross and meditations on caring for others or Works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries, praying with Mother Teresa and so much more!
You can easily share Hallow’s content with your community, parish, or faith group with the email template the Hallow team has created here.
To meet the needs of those self-quarantining and social distancing, Hallow has curated a “Stuck at Home” Praylist: the “Stuck at Home” praylist features prayers focused on trust, healing, and trusting in God’s will. You can foster your prayer life by praying with the Hallow Community on Facebook Live each day at 9p ET (and 11a ET on Sundays).
Download the Hallow app to join the #Pray40 community and journey with others through this desert of uncertainty together. Despite these strange times, we at DeSales pray your Lent continues to be a holy journey through the desert with Jesus. And that Christ, the Great Physician, keeps you and yours in good health and happiness!