Prayer? There’s an app for that now for every student at diocese’s high schools
By Tom Dermody
It’s no secret that high school students are connected to their phones. At Catholic high schools across the Diocese of Peoria, however, the students are now using their phones to better connect with God.
“I’m someone who struggles with routines and it’s always been difficult for me to remember to pray,” said Evy Kelsey, a junior at Schlarman Academy in Danville. “This way I have an alarm that will tell me that I need to pray every day!”
Evy is one of more than 1,500 Catholic high school students who in mid-September downloaded the Hallow app — billed as “the No. 1 prayer app in the world” — onto their phones and tablets through the initiative and generosity of Bishop Louis Tylka.
“I hope it’s a way that you, as students in Catholic high schools, can deepen your prayer lives,” said Bishop Tylka in a video encounter livestreamed at each school on Sept. 18, the diocese-wide launch day.
“It’s in our prayer life that we encounter Jesus,” the bishop reminded the students, “and Jesus is the one who transforms our lives, minds, and hearts to be his faithful disciples. So any way we can learn how to pray is great.”
And with that, the students were off and clicking, posting, connecting and, yes, praying.
“TO COME CLOSER TO JESUS”
“They’re so engaged!” said Dr. Susan Miller, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Peoria, later in the day as she reviewed initial student use of the Catholic prayer app from her office at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. “They’re doing so many different things. It’s been a fun day.”
Miller gave the welcoming remarks to the high school students during the Monday morning livestream. At some schools, such as Peoria Notre Dame, the student body assembled as one in the gym to see Bishop Tylka on large screens. In others, like Bloomington Central Catholic, the students viewed from their separate classrooms.
A high school student survey on prayer conducted at the start of the school year by the Office of Catholic Schools garnered 1,000 responses and revealed that nearly nine in 10 were open to deepening their prayer lives.
“That’s what we’re hoping to do with this,” Miller told the students of the Hallow app. “We are blessed that we have a tool that will enable us to come closer to Jesus.”
She thanked Bishop Tylka for providing the Hallow app to students across the diocese.
MANY WAYS TO ENGAGE
Bishop Tylka, in turn, told the students he has been using the app for a year after meeting its developers at a gathering of bishops.
“It simply invites us to look at different ways to pray,” said Bishop Tylka. “The one way I use it every day is, after I finish my Holy Hour in the chapel, I get on the treadmill and I pray the rosary with (Catholic actors) Mark Wahlberg or Jonathan Roumie.”
Students responding in the first days after downloading the app are finding multiple ways to put it to use — from “listening to the Gospel on the go,” learning new prayer methods, setting up groups to share prayer intentions, and charting successive days of prayer. Others cited options including trivia or listening to music.
School officials can create “missions,” or challenges for those using the Hallow app in the diocese’s Catholic high schools. On launch day, superintendent Miller asked users to post photos or videos of them finding a rosary, a photo of the bishop, or a favorite place to pray. Teachers were asked to incorporate Hallow into their lessons.
To get the students familiar with the app, Miller even welcomed videos of groups sitting on a couch and singing the theme song from “Friends,” complete with rapid claps.
“If I can get the kids engaged today, if I could spend a week and get them to pray, that would do more for these kids than anything I could teach them in math, science, or history,” she said.
She acknowledged the concern that phone use is too pervasive and can be a distraction at school.
“Phones are there. Phones are real. At least now they’ve got something on their phone that might pull them toward God rather than away from God, from relationship, from communicating with one another.”
“The spirit of this is phenomenal,” agreed Christopher McGraw, principal of Central Catholic. He said the Hallow app “meets kids where they are.”
“They’re on their devices — listening to podcasts, watching videos, listening to music,” said McGraw. “So it’s already a natural thing that’s happening, and this is a cool way to incorporate spirituality into that.”
Miller, who said she was a skeptic at first, told the students the app “has absolutely deepened my prayer life. It seems to be exactly what I need every day, and I pray it gives you the same support.”