Couple left their mark on former Catholic church

Couple left their mark on former Catholic church

[What becomes of a former church: Living quarters in the choirloft, a sandbox in the baptistry for play-therapy, yoga classes and music concerts in the sanctuary and nave, Halloween and other parties in the basement church hall – and now, abandoned again for possible conversion to apartments/condos depending on zoning permits; otherwise, the wrecking ball]

By Lindsay Moore / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 5, 2016 10:24 AM

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The choir loft of Saint Casimir has been retrofitted into the main living area.

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The molding and stained glass show the remains of what St. Casimir used to be, while the chipping paint and construction supplies show how much the church has decayed since being put out of commission.

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Where a station-of-the-cross used to hang on the wall at Saint Casimir is now just an outline of chipping white paint underneath the molding of a window.

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While many of the walls in Saint Casimir are not in good condition, the ceiling remains better maintained. The domes and arches of St. Casimir are reminders of the purpose that the building used to serve.

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This angle of St. Casimir shows how much it has changed since being deconsecrated. Brick replaces the altar and religious icons have been removed along with the pews.

St. Casimir has a presence you can feel, a tangible energy that gives you goosebumps as you look up at the defaced angels in the corners of the 50-foot domed ceiling.

Or maybe those goosebumps are from the chill of too little insulation.

Norine and Greg Minion decided they couldn’t take one more chilly winter up in the choir loft, so they put 2132 Sarah St. on the market. The 116-year-old South Side building, Pittsburgh’s first Lithuanian Catholic church, is now under contract for $674,000. But the sale is contingent on residential zoning permits, as it will likely become apartments or condominiums, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services agent Lynne Bingham said.

Though a previous owner converted the former church to an apartment, the Minions spent nine years and $400,000 making it a home and work space for themselves and Mrs. Minion’s mother. After trying several businesses in this 10,000-square-foot building, the couple has moved to East Liberty.

“They were really conscious of keeping the neighborhood happy,” Ms Bingham said. “A lot of people would have just dumped it to the first bidder.”

The church was founded in 1893 by Lithuanian immigrants but services weren’t conducted in the Sarah Street location until 1902, according to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s records. In 1992, St. Casimir closed its doors and merged with three other churches to create the Prince of Peace parish.

Former parishioners stop by often, Mrs Minion said. Some come to see where their parents were married. Others tear up seeing the gaping hole where the altar once stood.

Some blame the Minions for the current state of their once holy place. However, it was the diocese that stripped the property of its religious elements when it desanctified the space. St. Casimir was left with a few crosses, but no Jesus. A few cherubs, but no angels.

“It’s rough but we’re not pretty people,” Mrs. Minion said.

When they decided to move back to Pittsburgh in 2006 from Albuquerque, N.M., the Minions found the former church listed online. They were looking for a warehouse-like space where they could work, play and live. A 1983 movie was their inspiration.

“I wanted to live like ‘Flashdance,’” Mrs Minion said.

They bought it sight unseen for $625,000 and moved in a week before Christmas.

From day one, the Minions said they were constantly plagued by the p-word –potential. Friends, family and strangers offered up ideas of how the space could be used. Suggestions included installing a rock wall or a trapeze gym.

“It’s almost like it’s a container for people’s imagination,” Mrs. Minion said.

The couple tried several business ventures but nothing stuck. In the yellow baptistry, Mrs. Minion, a psychotherapist and counselor, set up a makeshift sandbox adorned with several shelves of figurines to be used during sand-play therapy.

Local artists used the main level for classes and musicians put on concerts. For a while, yoga instructors used the loft area of Mrs. Minion’s mother’s apartment for classes.

Mr. Minion grew up Catholic and was an altar boy until his sophomore year of high school. After dedicating every Sunday to his parish, he said he hasn’t spent much time back in church. Does he feel any religious connection to St. Casimir?

“It’s more [a feeling of] dread because there’s so much maintenance,” he said, laughing.

Mrs. Minion isn’t religious either, but she does feel a spiritual connection to the former sanctuary.

“Space is important,” she said. “It allows for your demons and your angels to come out and what better place than a church to have your demons come out?”

The Minions said the cost of restoration and maintenance — including approximately $15,000 on insulation — was just too high. For what they spent, Mrs. Minion joked they could have paid for a four-year Ivy League education.

Whether it was organizing a community effort to save the bell tower or hosting unforgettable Halloween parties in their basement with more than a hundred guests, the Minions left their mark on the historic property. And St. Casimir left its mark on them.

“It gave us the space to learn about ourselves,” she said.

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