Founder of Catholic meditation app speaks with the Rover
In December 2021, Irish Rover managing editor Elizabeth Self connected with Notre Dame 2015 graduate and entrepreneur Alex Jones after he and his team were named among Forbes’ “30 Under 30.” Their product, the Catholic meditation app Hallow, has led individuals in prayer well over 25 million times since its launch in December 2018.
Jones and his cofounder Erich Kerekes each completed engineering degrees at Notre Dame but did not meet until they started working at the same consulting firm following graduation. Jones and the third cofounder, Alessandro DiSanto, met and became friends in Keough hall. The three cofounders represent different faith journeys convening in a providential way on this special project: Jones had fallen away from the faith but was drawn back through meditation, Kerekes had always been strong in his faith and wanted to deepen it, and DiSanto, though engaged theologically and intellectually, wanted to improve his prayer life.
Important members of the founding team also include Abby Fredrickson, a theology degree from Notre Dame and Head of Content, and Bryan Enriquez, Jones’ randomly assigned freshman year roommate and Head of Customer Operations. The team has remained close, and DiSanto and Enriquez were both best men in Jones’ wedding. “Several members of the Hallow Board of Advisors,” Jones mentioned, “are Notre Dame mentors including Professor John Cavadini, Father Kevin Grove, and Scott Malpass. David Murphy who works out of ESTEEM was one of the most helpful early supporters of Hallow early on. David Wieland from Irish Angels was one of the earliest investors in Hallow. And lastly, Fr. Pete McCormick C.S.C. has been an incredible mentor and friend and ended up presiding at the wedding of my wife and I a few years after graduation.”
Prayer shaped Hallow from the beginning. Jones recalled: “One of the best examples of how God brought us all together was in choosing our first audio guide, Francis. I was talking to Erich about how we needed someone who I looked up to as a spiritual director but also had an incredibly soothing voice. I went into Mass just after that phone call and, immediately after receiving the Eucharist, his name popped into my mind. I had only met him once before, but he was perfect in every way and ended up being the perfect first guide for the app.”
The Rover: Forbes calls Hallow: “Headspace, but with religion.” How would you elaborate on this description of your product?
Jones: Our goal at Hallow is to help people find peace in God and to grow deeper in their faith lives. Like Forbes describes, we are similar to the secular meditations apps Headspace and Calm in that it’s an audio-based experience where you can choose your guide, your length, and create your own custom journey, but it’s different in that all of the content on the Hallow app is 100% rooted in the Catholic Church and the Church’s teaching. Instead of breath-focused meditations, all of the content is focused on God with things like Scriptural meditation, recollection, Ignatian spirituality, the Rosary, Gregorian Chant, and a whole lot more—all focused on helping folks grow closer to God.
The Rover: Forbes notes: “Hallow has 1.5 million downloads and 35,000 five-star reviews across 150 countries. Currently focused on Catholics, it aims to become a resource for anyone seeking spirituality.” Can you say more about what’s up next for Hallow? What is there in the Church today that excites you?
Jones: Hallow will always be 100% authentically Catholic and rooted in the Church’s teaching, but at the same time, we are trying to create a place that is as welcoming as possible to everyone. We have people on the app who are Protestant, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, and Jewish, folks who have fallen away from their faith, and folks who take their faith incredibly seriously. Our goal is to create a space where anyone can come and discover the rich beauty of the contemplative spiritual traditions of the Church and to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ.
By the grace of God, we’ve seen countless examples of this app being used as a tool for evangelization with folks converting from other faiths or returning to their faith. We had someone write to us who had fallen away from their faith for over 30 years. She started praying with the app and was so inspired by the Holy Spirit that she went to Confession, then to Mass the next day. She described Hallow as an arrow sent straight from the Holy Spirit into her soul. Praise God.
We’re so humbled to be able to be part of this journey and we get incredibly excited about a lot of the work that we see happening in the Church today. There are amazing theological leaders like Bishop Barron and Father Mike Schmitz doing incredible work to help folks discover the real truth and beauty of our faith. There are amazing musicians like Brother Isaiah and Harpa Dei who are creating tear-jerkingly beautiful music. And we are starting to see awesome new technology pop up all around the Catholic world.
We, in particular, get really excited at Hallow about the opportunity to focus on spirituality and introduce folks to the beautiful contemplative and meditative traditions of our Church as a way for them to find peace and hope amidst the often very difficult times that we’re living in.
The Rover: How has Hallow affected your own faith?
Jones: Pretty dramatically. Five years ago I would have considered myself agnostic or atheist. I became fascinated with meditation and began using Headspace and Calm regularly, but kept feeling a pull towards something spiritual, something Christian. I began asking mentors, many of whom were from Notre Dame, “Hey—is there any intersection between this Christian faith and meditation?” and they all said “Uh, yeah! It’s called contemplative and meditative prayer. We’ve been doing it for about 2,000 years. You probably should have heard about it!”
I began to discover this rich, beautiful world of Catholic contemplative prayer that honestly I’d never heard of before. That was the inspiration behind starting Hallow, and ever since then I’ve been on this journey, along with the Hallow community, of rediscovering my faith life and of diving deeper into my relationship with God.
My faith is now the most important part of who I am. I’ve rediscovered the beauty of the sacraments of Confession and of the Mass, and my relationship with God is at a point that I could never have imagined a few years ago.
I use Hallow every day. It’s been so helpful in building a daily habit of sitting in silence, of listening to spiritual music, and of praying the rosary. The first version of Hallow was really built pretty selfishly for just my own needs, and luckily it’s been super helpful in building a real habit of prayer in my life.
The Rover: What have been a few of Hallow’s greatest challenges in the last year as opposed to those from Hallow’s very beginning?
Jones: The three most important and often most difficult parts of Hallow have always been trying to build a world-class product through which God can change people’s lives, trying to reach as many folks as quickly as possible (especially folks who have fallen away from the faith), and finally building a world-class team.
In the beginning, we were just getting started, so figuring out what the product was and what content would really resonate was hard because we were creating something like this for the first time. Whereas now, the harder part is prioritizing among the long list of content and feature requests and figuring out how to present thousands of meditations to folks in a way that’s simple and not overwhelming.
On the growth side: at the beginning it was hard because no one knew what Hallow was, so explaining to them the idea of a prayer and meditation app was new. But now, even though most folks around the world still don’t know of Hallow, the bigger challenge is how we can continue to reach more folks at scale in an efficient way, which can get harder as you grow.
By far the most important part of building Hallow, though, has been the team. At the beginning, the hardest part was getting someone to bet on an idea that didn’t exist (and take pretty dramatic pay cuts). It was a big gamble and took folks with real courage to make the leap. Now, the hard part is less the risk and more just finding the best in the world at what we are trying to do, and convincing them to join Hallow instead of Google or Facebook or Apple.
The Rover: What have been moments of grace in the development of Hallow?
Jones: There are too many to count. I have a little brown notebook full of them just so I make sure to always remember. The most surprising thing about Hallow for me has been how tactically God has intervened to create this resource and this community. Anything good that has happened, whether it’s a content partnership or a big growth moment or a great new product feature, has been God’s doing. We’ve just tried to not screw it up along the way.
But by far the biggest moments of grace for Hallow have been hearing the testimonies from members of the Hallow community on the impact that God has been able to have on their lives. Someone wrote to us a few weeks ago and shared that their friend was terminally ill, had seven days left to live, had never prayed before, and was too intimidated to pray. So they took out the Hallow app and prayed the rosary with them for the last seven days of their life.
Someone else wrote us and shared that he was struggling with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, and in the moment he was overwhelmed with these thoughts, he ended up running to quiet space, plugging in their headphones, and meditating on how much Jesus loved him, which ended up bringing a sense of calm and peace that gave him the strength to continue on in his day.
These stories have, by far, been the biggest blessings we’ve gotten. All credit and glory to God. It’s just a blast to be along with Him on this ride.
Elizabeth Self is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies and theology and minoring in Constitutional Studies. At this time, she is not fielding conversations on her postgrad plans and thesis, but please reach out to her to discuss anything else at email@example.com.
Image description: Alex Jones, Erich Kerekes and Alessandro DiSanto of Chicago pose for a photo on 3 April, 2020. They are the founders of a popular Catholic app called Hallow centered on meditation and prayer.
Image credit: CNS/handout via Archdiocese of Chicago