Hollywood heavy hitters push Hallow higher

  • February 23, 2023

One of the most popular Catholic apps in the world, according to various online metrics, Hallow is poised to soar even higher this Lenten season.

Once again, a special Pray40 Lent Challenge is being hosted on this mobile application that has helped Catholics focus their prayer and meditation life since 2018. Hallow, co-founded by University of Notre Dame graduates Alex Jones, Alessandro DiSanto and Erich Kerekes, has attracted some big names to help present the Pray40 challenge, including Hollywood heavyweights Mark Wahlberg and Jim Caviezel.

Caviezel and Jonathan Roumie, who portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and The Chosen TV series respectively, will guide a meditation on the Imitation of Christ each Monday and Wednesday, and an extended silent prayer on Thursday, while each Friday Wahlberg will host a program called Fasting Motivation and Challenge. 

Other big names involved include Fr. Mike Schmitz, the host of the popular Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts, who will record homilies for each Sunday, along with author and motivational speaker Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who will lead a devotional prayer each Tuesday. 

On Saturdays, a guest religious sister from the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth will teach a reflection and lesson about the Corporal Works of Mercy. 

“We already have over 120,000 (sign-ups) and I expect over a quarter of a million,” said Jones, Hallow’s CEO. “It will be an incredible opportunity for us all to get to pray every day during Lent and prepare for Easter and the Resurrection. We’re pretty excited.”

The Hallow team did effective networking to forge these relationships. In the case of Roumie, the bond dates back several years to the app’s infancy. A friend of Jones, DiSanto and Kerekes happened to go to the same church as Roumie, and they learned The Chosen was on the verge of debuting. 

“We watched the first episode and thought, ‘this is going to be life-changing, it’s incredible,’ ” said Jones. “We’d love to have him. Folks have just loved him. Every step of the way he has done a wonderful job leading folks in prayer.”

Landing Wahlberg could be chalked up as a case of providential timing. The Oscar-nominated actor-producer announced publicly last spring, after playing boxer-turned-Catholic priest Fr. Stuart Long in Fr. Stu, that he was going to embark upon a new chapter of his professional life. 

“He’s said that during this chapter of his career he’s focused on leveraging the platform he said God has given him as a way to help other people grow deeper in their faith life,” said Jones. “He was looking for a partner and we worked with Mark before the launch of Fr. Stu to help promote it and get people excited.

“We’re looking forward to doing a lot more projects with all these people in the future.”

DiSanto, Jones and Kerekes, all turning 30 in 2023, have all been heralded for their efforts as Internet entrepreneurs. They were jointly named to Forbes 30 Under 30 2022 list in the consumer technology category. 

Jones grew up Catholic but fell away from his faith for a time. He said he was “agnostic or atheist” through most of high school and college. During his postsecondary days, Jones said he was immersed in secular meditation. The apps Headspace and Calm had launched around that time.

“I thought they were great tools to learn the technique from the comfort of your own home for 10 minutes feeling like you had your own personal guide. Every time I tried to meditate using these secular techniques, I always felt my mind was being pulled towards something spiritual — toward the Christian image of the Cross, the Trinity or the Holy Spirit. I found this very strange as I still considered myself agnostic.” said Jones.

He wanted answers after this experience. He asked some priests if there was any intersection between faith and meditation. 

“They all laughed and said, ‘yeah, it’s called prayer, contemplative and meditative prayer,’ ” said Jones. “I had heard about prayer obviously, but it always felt like I was talking to myself or going through the motions.”

His spiritual curiosity was sparked. He learned about the Lectio Divina, Ignatian and Carmelite spirituality and other religious contemplative and meditative techniques. He read Matthew 6, where Jesus taught His disciples the teachings of the Holy Spirit, using Lectio Divina, and he said “it changed my life. It brought me to tears (and) brought me back to my faith.”

The app has been downloaded over 3.75 million times and offers audio-guided Bible stories, prayers, meditations, sleep and Christian music. 

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