By Natalie Hoefer
The flames of the candles flickered in the middle of the rosary on the floor as Colleen Scariano and about 30 other SoulCore participants stretched on their mats, the sounds of soft music easing the silence.
“The first Joyful mystery is the Annunciation,” said instructor Deanne Miller. “A fruit of this mystery is humility.”
Scariano and the others listened as Miller read Scripture and a reflection on the virtue of humility before leading the participants through strength-building positions, one for each Hail Mary of the decade.
The SoulCore class continued in this way through the whole rosary.
After the class, participants used words like “reflective,” “peaceful,” “challenging” and “spiritual” to describe their experience.
SoulCore, a core-strengthening workout centered around praying the rosary and reflecting on its virtues, was created by Scariano and Miller, members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel in the Lafayette Diocese.
More than just an idea they had, SoulCore was borne out of a series of tragic events in Scariano’s life—and the following journey of hope and healing she attributes to the Blessed Mother.
Scariano shared her story during an evening at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis on April 29, followed by Miller leading the approximately 30 attendees through a SoulCore workout.
‘Physically, spiritually, emotionally broken’
Tragedy first struck the Scariano family when Colleen’s older brother, Daniel, was killed by lightning at the age of 15.
Overwhelming grief led to the effective if not physical loss of Colleen’s father and Dan’s closest brother, Michael. Her father became an alcoholic, and Michael became addicted to drugs.
“There were other trials that followed from that,” Scariano told those present for the event. “We lost money from my father’s alcoholism. We lost our home.
“But while my dad turned to alcohol, my mom turned to Christ and Mary. Through all of the trials, my mom was a benevolent example of perseverance in prayer, hope, love, trust and joy in suffering.
“She put into practice all the virtues of the rosary. She was a witness to us children, and our family still knew love and laughter,” said Scariano, the fifth of six children.
After 30 years of her mother’s persistent prayer, Scariano’s father and brother both overcame their addictions.
Then on Jan. 10, 2010, tragedy struck again when Scariano’s mother died unexpectedly.
“She was the spiritual glue of our family,” Scariano said, choking back tears. “She loved foolishly. That was her witness. Her loss was a crushing blow to all of us.”
Scariano’s parents had been living in an apartment above her and her husband’s garage in Noblesville, Ind. in the Lafayette Diocese. Her brother Michael moved into the apartment with their father.
Then, just two months after her mother’s death, Scariano walked up to the apartment and found both her father and brother dead from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
“I was physically, spiritually and emotionally broken,” she said.
“Our kitchen looked out on the apartment. It was so painful to look at. I wanted to move to get away from the pain, but in adoration I decided to pray a 30-day novena to St. Therese the Little Flower to decide if that was the right thing to do.”
On the last day of the novena, Scariano received not one but several messages that made it “so clear that God called us to stay in our home.
“I had a new hope. That was a real turning point.”
‘Focus of SoulCore is the prayers’
After the loss of her mother, Scariano began turning to the Blessed Mother to fill that role.
“That is where my true healing came,” she recalled. “In the rosary, I discovered that each mystery offers a spiritual fruit. As we reflect on the mysteries, we grow in virtue. The rosary is a school of virtue.”
After a trip to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where many believe apparitions of Mary have been occurring since 1981, Scariano came back “on fire for Mary.”
For exercise, she had been in the practice of running while reciting the rosary. When someone told her she needed to also do core-strengthening exercises, Scariano tried to find a rosary-based workout, to no avail.
So on Aug. 27, 2012, she contacted her friend and fellow parishioner, Miller, a convert to Catholicism from Greek Orthodoxy who had a strong devotion to Mary.
“I asked Deanne to design the workout,” Scariano said. “Through the Holy Spirit, together with the Blessed Mother,” the vision of SoulCore was born.
“Most exercise disciplines are about the exercise, and you might get spiritual benefit from that process,” Miller explained. “But the focus of SoulCore is the prayers of the rosary. The physical movement enhances the prayer.
“We are created body and soul, so the physical movement takes you into that deeper connection of who we’re created to be, for being a fit instrument to do God’s will. Every movement we do, every prayer is to take us more fully into the true presence of Jesus.”
Scariano said the exercise is so prayer-focused that the movements aren’t even required.
“It’s not, ‘We’re here to do these specific moves,’ ” she said. “If someone comes and just lays on the mat, they’ve accomplished the intent of SoulCore.”
Even something as simple as a push-up holds spiritual meaning in SoulCore.
“You can think about how when you’re pushed away from Jesus like when you’re pushed away from the mat, it might feel like a better place,” Miller explained. “But as you come back down, even though that’s harder, that’s when we’re strengthened, like when we’re drawing closer to Christ we’re being strengthened.”
‘SoulCore is its own movement’
Some might be tempted to call the workout yoga, an exercise rooted in various eastern Asian religions, but Scariano and Miller make the distinction clear.
“SoulCore really is its own movement,” Miller explained. “It’s not a response to any other practices, but a ‘yes’ to something clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
“Yoga is so popular in our culture that anything that is done on a mat is called yoga,” she said. “The hope of SoulCore is to invite people to grow in virtue and to experience a deeper inner peace. We try to invite people to go deeper into that presence of Jesus and knowing him.”
But just to be clear, Miller said, “We’ve really tried to eliminate any poses that might cause confusion.”
Miller, a married mother of four, and Scariano, a married mother of three, are so devoted to Mary, in fact, that both have made and annually renew St. Louis de Montfort’s consecration to Mary. They have consecrated their SoulCore ministry to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Potential SoulCore instructors are asked to read 33 Days to Morning Glory, a do-it-yourself Marian consecration retreat written by Marians of the Immaculate Conception Father Michael Gaitley.
“Even if they choose not to do the consecration, there’s this 33 days where women are reading, and we are praying for them along that journey,” said Scariano. “It’s a very beautiful time.”
Adhering to the magisterium is important to Scariano and Miller. SoulCore has received the official support of the bishop’s office of the Lafayette Diocese.
“Through this apostolate, we’ve been entrusted with a treasure of the Catholic Church—the rosary,” said Scariano. “So it’s really our deepest desire to protect the integrity and beauty of that.”
‘Very prayerful yet really challenging’
With such a focus on prayer, how effective is the workout physically?
According to Scariano, Father Joshua Janko, director of Catholic Mission at St. Theodore Guérin High School in Noblesville, can testify to the workout’s effectiveness.
“Father Janko said he’s going to rename it ‘SoSore!’ ” she said with a laugh. “He’s a cross country runner, but [SoulCore] just works different muscles.”
Several women who attended the SoulCore evening at Fatima Retreat House agreed with the priest’s assessment.
Colette Fike, a member of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis, found SoulCore to be “great both physically and spiritually.
“I get bored with repetitive exercise,” she said. “This had a lot of variety.
“And I sometimes get distracted while praying the rosary, but I didn’t [when doing SoulCore]. I found the workout very prayerful yet really challenging.”
Joan Baue of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis was “pleasantly surprised” by the class.
“I thought it was going to be more meditative without a lot of movement,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised because it was quite a workout.”
Baue is on Nativity’s faith formation committee and plans on suggesting they bring SoulCore to the parish.
“Parishes are always looking for ways to do what they need to do without having to spend a lot of money,” she said. “This, you just need a DVD and a DVD player. It’s a good investment,” she said in reference to the SoulCore products available for purchase at www.SoulCoreProject.com.
A group of women at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis have done just that. The women meet at the parish one evening a week to do SoulCore together, using the DVDs and downloads the parish purchased.
“SoulCore helps me refocus after a long day at work,” said St. Monica parishioner and pediatrician Dr. Eve Gill. “When we finish, I feel great and am spiritually renewed. The SoulCore program marries praying the rosary and exercise beautifully. I really enjoy it!”
The first DVD, the Joyful Mysteries, was produced in January of 2014. Since then, copies of that DVD, their new Sorrowful Mysteries DVD, and the less formal downloads of the Glorious and Luminous Mysteries have sold throughout the United States and in nine other countries ranging from Panama and Mexico to Australia and Japan.
“Our new goal is to have our website’s information translated into Spanish, and then to film a Spanish DVD or translate our DVDs into Spanish,” said Miller.
Their hope is to have this accomplished in time for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September, where they have been invited to set up a booth.
Beyond that, Miller and Scariano hope to produce at least one DVD of each of the mysteries, and eventually offer downloads of several classes.
“Each class is never the same,” said Miller. “The reflections are different, the Scriptures may vary, and there are different fruits and virtues for each decade.”
Meanwhile, the two are on the road conducting instructor retreats, the most recent being in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Instructor-led classes are currently held at parishes and other locations in the Lafayette and Fort Wayne-South Bend dioceses, and in Gates Mills and Highland Heights in Ohio.
Turning suffering into joy
The first location where the SoulCore classes were—and still are—taught was in the renovated garage over which the apartment was located on the Scariano’s property, the one in which her father and brother died.
“That has gone from being a place of death to a place of life,” said Scariano.
The conversion of the garage to a workout studio created “so much more healing than I knew was needed. It’s a visible sign that God can take great suffering and bring new life and joy. Like the Scripture says, he can ‘make all things new’ ” (Rev. 21:5).
A Mass was celebrated in the studio to consecrate and bless the space. Afterward, Scariano plugged her iPod into the sound system, and the family danced with joy.
“It reminded me of the Scripture, ‘I will turn your sorrow into dancing’ (Ps 30:11),” she said.
“What is broken, God can change to good,” she continued. “But we have to be humble like Mary and ask for help. Then you can heal in body, mind and soul, and be filled with the light of Christ.”