Pray Catholic Novena App–1 Year later

A year ago my friend Chad and I published Pray: the Catholic Novena App to the Apple app store.

Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect. Would Catholics find this app helpful in their prayer life?

I knew it helped me to remember to pray novenas and to not forget which day I was on, but would other Catholics find it similarly useful?

One Year, And Countless Novenas Later

Well, the verdict came in: Catholics loved the app. We were inundated with (mostly) five-star reviews, novena requests, and emails of thanks. We saw prayer warriors from Tanzania to England, the Philippines to Japan, Australia to Sweden and many countries in between.

We listened to what users wanted and implemented their requests in the app.

Along the way, I was touched by the heartfelt emails that people sent to me through the app–yes they all go right into my email–with requests for prayers on everything from cancer to depression, to finding their future spouse to conceiving children.

I could relate to most of these requests–I had prayed novenas for the very same hopes!–and so a community was born based around this ancient devotional practice within Christ’s Church.

Novenas Answered

During my single years, while seeking God’s vocation for my life, I prayed numerous novenas to St. Joseph for wisdom in discernment and then for the grace to meet my future wife.

It was through such prayers that I met my wife Catherine.

We hoped for children right away, but months passed and no children were conceived. So we prayed more novenas, and we conceived. We had such joy, but two months later we miscarried, the first first of three children we lost to miscarriage.

We turned again to God through novenas and conceived, and our son Edmund was born.

Again and again our Lord has been faithful to us through the prayers of the saints. Through the novenas, we have grown closer to these great saints as well, learning more about them, feeling a kinship with them in the communion of saints.

Androids Were Left Out

The only problem was: the Pray app was serving roughly half of Catholics: it was only on Apple devices like iPhones and iPads, not on Android ones. And given that many inexpensive Android devices are accessible and used by Catholics in developing countries and around the world, we needed to port the app to Android.

Technically speaking, this is a difficult task. It required a rewrite of the app using a different programming language on a completely different platform.

We did a crowdfunding campaign through IndieGogo and raised $1,300. Normally, that would not pay for even one-tenth of the price of a mobile app, but because Chad and I are programmers and have ties to the software development community, we were able to find a mutually beneficial situation with a up-and-coming Android developer. He was willing to write the app for almost the exact amount we had raised!

The result: we are now live in the Google Play store with the Pray app!

Novena Avalanche

I’ve been amazed at how many Catholics are now praying novenas with the app. Before the app, I prayed perhaps two novenas per year. In the past year, I prayed 19 novenas! The app made it that easy.

What’s also been amazing is how generous our patrons have been. Originally in the app, there was no way to pay for it (app was free) and no way to donate to our mission of spreading novena prayers around the world.

You could unlock novenas by sharing them with a friend. But people emailed me explaining they had already invited all their friends, or didn’t have many friends, so could they please just donate or pay us?

We listened and added in a patronage model. You could become a patron for $4.99 per year or $9.99 per year. You get the same benefits no matter which level you choose to become a patron at. The surprising result: half the patrons chose the higher level of patronage!

This was a big validation to us that our mission and execution of it in the app was helpful. People wanted us to continue work on the app, and so we have. By their generosity we have been able to add more features, more novenas, bring it to Android, and have many other plans for it.

Going on Right Now, Huge Novena

As this goes to publication, not only is the app now on Android, but also we’ve added the amazing Divine Mercy Novena to the app.

This novena and the Chaplet that goes with it has been a favorite of mine ever since I learned of it shortly after becoming Catholic. The Marians kindly gave me permission to add the novena to the app, for which I am grateful.

The app is becoming the #1 Catholic app in the world. Join us and begin to grow closer to God in prayer!

A New App to Pray Novenas

Introducing, my first native iOS app, Pray: the Catholic Novena App.

This app was a long time in the making, but came at a providential time, as I’ll relate shortly.

The Story of Pray Catholic Novenas App

I’m a computer programmer, have been for twenty years. A few years ago I moved in across the street from another programmer, Chad.

Novenas to pray
Novenas to pray

We got to be friends and realized we had lots in common in regard to software development. He was working as the CTO of a startup company and programmed their mobile app, a really sleek iPhone app for college students to make connections with each other.

I was interested in learning iPhone development; he was interested in doing a project that would be part of his portfolio, since all the other apps he had made were for other companies.

So we decided to partner together, and Devoted Coders was born.

He taught me the Swift programming language and let me hack out the first chunks of the app. At the time, it was going to be a general purpose Catholic app, like Laudate or iPieta.

I’ve appreciated these Catholic apps to do things like read the daily gospel reading, but I’ve always cringed a bit with the usability. Most of these apps have big clunky icons, long listviews of text, and the ever-spinning activity indicator. (Does it really take that long to open up the USCCB daily reading pages in a web browser?)

Chad had honed his skills on professional apps that had to be instantly usable by people with little patience and attention span. So we started designing the app and realized that making another “kitchen sink” Catholic app wouldn’t be very valuable.

I shared with him about novenas, how you pray for nine days and ask a saint to pray for you during that time for some particular intention. He, not being religious, had never heard of novenas before but loved the idea of people praying together for a certain request.

We decided to just make a simple app that helped people pray novenas.

And Pray: the Catholic Novena app was born.

The Pain Points of Novenas

I explained to him the pitfalls of praying novenas:

  • You forget to pray one or more days
  • You forget which day you are on
  • You have to mentally compile each day’s prayer, intro-day prayers-concluding prayer
  • It’s hard to sync up with your friends and family to pray together

But an app is perfectly suited to solving such problems:

  • It can remind you each day to pray
  • It compiles the prayer for you
  • It takes you to the right day’s prayer
  • It helps you catch up if you get behind
  • It enables you to invite friends to pray a novena with you

So we started out with crayola drawings of the screens, discussed them, refined them, mocked them up, and then implemented them using Apple’s storyboards.

The Three Hail Marys novena
The Three Hail Marys novena

Chad applied his design and aesthetic skills to the usability, look and feel and touch, and we made a prototype. Along the way I explained more about novenas to him.

He wanted Protestants to use the novena app too, but I told him Protestants don’t believe in asking for prayers from saints. A discussion began about Catholic-Protestant differences, where they came from, how we can know which is truer, and so on.

Even if most Protestants wouldn’t use this app, though, Catholics would. And I have even had some Protestants indicate they would be willing to try it out, as several novenas are directly to Jesus or the Holy Spirit in any case.

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1X8HXYg”]He wanted Protestants to use the novena app; I told him Protestants don’t believe in asking for prayers from saints[/tweetthis]

Then It Got Personal

We published the app on Saturday. Then I invited a handful of friends to try it out as beta testers and give us feedback.

Three days later my daughter got a bump on her face, and we took her into the hospital. The ER doctors took a blood sample then a CT scan, then they disappeared and we didn’t hear from them. We saw them looking in our room window with very concerned looks.

We asked them what was going on and they said they didn’t have any results back yet. We know now that they did but were waiting on the oncology doctor to come down to the ER to speak with us.

My daughter had leukemia.

josephinecComplete shock. A whirlwind next few days of bone marrow extractions, spinal taps, tests, and chemotherapy.

Friends began to hear the news and they all wanted to pray. Many wanted to pray novenas. Which saint? they asked. So I sent them the link to the new app and said pick anyone you want.

A few days later I had some time at night and added St. Josephine Bakhita, my daughter’s namesake, to the app.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that so many friends were praying novenas with me for my daughter.

A week later, we are still in the hospital. But we’ve had positive signs of how she is responding to the chemotherapy.

A Real App for Real Needs

It’s so simple, but novenas are one of the Church’s traditions for praying together for a request. While there are several novena apps in the App Store, none had the elegance, usability, or helpfulness of our app. And some of them cost money; our app is free.

So please do try out our new app for praying novenas. And if you pray the St. Josephine one, please consider adding my daughter’s healing to your intentions.

God bless,
Devin