By LINDA BEHRENS
When Angie Leonelli found Pietra Fitness online, she fell in love with it.
“It spoke to my heart in ways yoga never could,” she says. “I used to make up my own prayer workouts because I love prayer and fitness together. When I found Pietra Fitness, I thought, Wow!”
Leonelli, a Pietra Fitness instructor and parishioner at St. Clare Church, O’Fallon, says this exercise option combines the love of fitness and Catholic faith.
“By combining stretching and strengthening exercises with Christian prayer and mediation, Pietra Fitness workouts enrich the body, mind and soul so participants can glorify God with their entire being,” she says.
Leonelli offers in-person classes at Taylor Academy of Dance in O’Fallon. Classes begin with prayer intentions that include Pope Francis, bishops, priests and religious. It is followed by a scripture verse and a pause. Pauses happen about three times throughout the class to assimilate what has happened in the class to that point.
Classes include various stretches, short meditation/spiritual readings and a wind down.
“The best part is at the end, when you lay on your back, with legs stretched or bent, and arms outstretched to make a T,” Leonelli explains. “At that point, the music is changed to a Gregorian chant.”
The San Damiano Crucifix is present in every Pietra Fitness class. St. Francis of Assisi prayed repeatedly before this crucifix. One day while praying, he received a mission: “Go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruin.”
“Pietra Fitness believes that God is still asking his people to rebuild the church, including our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit,” Leonelli says. “Having a San Damiano Crucifix in every class reminds us of this call.”
She said when she taught the class using Zoom, many participants didn’t come back to the Zoom call at that point because they fell asleep.
“Pietra Fitness is combining prayer and fitness in cool ways,” Leonelli says, referencing the programs for children, an athletics series and chair classes. Plans are underway for pre-natal and post-natal options.
Some instructors, she says, offer classes at Catholic schools. Leonelli will also lead sessions at retreats or parishes.
Leonelli was certified in Petra Fitness in November 2020 when she lived in New Jersey. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, her first eight months of classes were offered through Zoom.
She moved to O’Fallon in August 2021 and taught a six-week series at St. Clare Catholic Church in O’Fallon, her parish. She now rents space at Taylor’s Academy of Dance. Currently her in-person classes are for women only.
Leonelli and her husband, who has served 25 years active duty with the U.S. Air Force and is stationed at Scott Air Force Base, are living in the Diocese of Belleville for the third time. They have four sons and one daughter.
She offers a Theology of Body class that uses meditations and scriptures based on St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, which offers stretches and strengthening exercises for a new understanding of what it takes to be created in the image and likeness of God.
She recently finished a Surrender Novena series that helps participants calm their minds and focus on seeking God’s will for their lives.
Molly King has been taking Leonelli’s Pietra Fitness classes since last fall.
“The first class almost brought me to tears, because it was such a perfect fusion of spiritual meditation and strength and stretching,” King says.
“It was the fitness experience I think that I have always missed,” King adds. “When you leave Angie’s class, you feel great in every way—physically strong, mentally clear and at peace!
Melanie Gniewek has been taking Leonelli’s classes for the past several months.
“Pietra Fitness has opened my eyes to seeing that I don’t have to compartmentalize Jesus in my life,” Gniewek says. “Seeing how He can be present when I am working out challenges me to ask, what other ‘unexpected’ parts of my life can He come into? Work? Cooking? Yard work?
She adds, “Pietra Fitness makes stronger physical muscle, but also the spiritual muscle. I had an experience during one of the classes where Angie took us through a workout and instructed us to go into “rock pose,” which is a brief rest pose.
While in rock pose, I felt this overwhelming amount of love rush through me, and I said, ‘I love you, Jesus!’ I’ve taken fitness classes all my life, and I’ve never had that experience.”
Gniewek also says what she likes about Pietra Fitness, “is that I see my body is this beautiful temple, just the way God made it, and that Jesus wants to be in my life, no matter what I am doing.”
Laura Polillo says she is truly blessed to have Leonelli as her teacher for Pietra Fitness.
“The classes are professionally conducted and are the perfect combination of prayerfulness and fitness,” Polillo says. “There is no pressure, and everyone is encouraged to be mindful of their own body’s abilities. Making our bodies healthier so that we can serve the Lord!”