All activities can be offered up as praise to God, and exercise is no exception. At St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc, a new exercise class called SoulCore does just that, combining core strengthening and stretching with the prayers of the rosary.

Sophia Von Rueden, a St. Jerome parishioner and certified SoulCore instructor, began offering the class at her church in September.

“I actually first heard about it from my mom,” Von Rueden said. “We often talk about finding good ways to exercise and she had read about it on a Catholic blog.”

According to SoulCore’s website, it is “an invitation to integrate body and soul in prayer, fully orienting the heart and mind toward Christ, while discovering the beauty of the rosary.”

Von Rueden, who was a gymnast for 13 years and studied personal training in college, took an immediate interest in SoulCore and the opportunity to become a certified instructor. Von Rueden submitted an application that included her biographical information and a reflection on her personal faith journey.

After being accepted, she attended a weekend retreat where she learned more about the spiritual elements of SoulCore, along with basic exercise instruction. The 60 days following the retreat, she continued to focus on spiritual and physical formation. By the end of the summer, Von Rueden was ready to teach.

“Some people have worries about a connection between SoulCore and yoga, which can be controversial,” Von Rueden said. “There is no connection. The idea behind the exercises and prayers is Christian meditation; filling your life and soul with the word of Christ.”

A typical session starts with exercise mats arranged in a circle on the floor, representing the shape of the rosary. In the center is a rosary with candles. Soft music plays throughout the session to enhance the sensory experience. Participants make the sign of the cross at the start of each session and offer up intentions for the rosary.

“We ask the Holy Spirit to bless us as we begin,” Von Rueden said.

Each Mystery starts with a scripture verse and a reflection, offering a time of rest. Typically, push-ups are done throughout each of the Our Fathers and movements vary for each of the Hail Marys. If push-ups – or any of the other movements – are beyond a participant’s fitness (or comfort) level, Von Rueden has modified options, as well.

“This is very much for all fitness levels,” Von Rueden said. “This is primarily spiritual – with the prayers being the main focus. The exercises are secondary.”

As a wife and mother of three small boys – Francis, 5; George, 3; and Ignatius, 1 – Von Rueden knows it can be hard to make time for prayer, much less exercise.

“Sometimes you have to shuffle things around,” she said. “Wake up a little earlier, stay up a little later, or integrate little things into your day. I really like that Mary was a mother and I can call on her. She understands.”

In an effort to make the class more accessible, Von Rueden offers it at 6 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month, and at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays. She is offering a special Lenten class after daily Mass on April 12.

Participants of all ages are welcome and the class is free. “It was very important to those who created the class that everyone can attend,” Von Rueden said. She does accept a free-will donation. In addition to classes at St. Jerome, Von Rueden can also lead them on retreats or in other parish settings.

For more information about Von Rueden or her class specifically, email