Susan Anderson has a dream of bringing wellness to her hometown of Pittsburgh and enhancing the sense of community in South Side Slopes at the same time.
Anderson, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and now lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with her husband, Doug, two children and two dogs, recently bought the former St. Josaphat Catholic Church at 2305 Mission St. and has hired Desmone Architects and Franjo Construction to help her make her dream a reality.
By the time the church is renovated in a year or so, they’ll be ready to move home, she says.
“We’re looking at it as an event space but also a place for wellness classes, spa treatments, maybe music therapy, a community place where people can mesh,” she says. “We’ve disconnected because of Covid, but I think it was far before Covid, with the whole digital thing. Unfortunately, I think that’s harming our society.”
Anderson owns m.greengrass, which sells candles, bath and body products made in America, a company inspired by her immigrant grandmother, Minnie Greengrass.
Anderson graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in graphic design and spent many years working in marketing and sales for major retailers such as L’Oreal. She married a college friend and agreed to move to his hometown, though she never wanted to leave Pittsburgh.
“We were raised with a big family, in this incredible community,” she says. “I thought if I could just share the way I was raised with everybody — I feel so fortunate to have had an incredibly loving father and mother, and family Sundays at my Aunt Belle’s.”
Anderson’s mother still lives in the house where she grew up. She’s calling the renovated church “The Sid,” named for her late father, Sidney Bernard Sheffler.
Like her father, Anderson is a “people person” who loves talking with others and enjoyed being with customers more than sitting at a desk as a graphic designer, which led her to branch out. Now, she’d like to apply all that she has learned at The Sid, where she envisions people will come for such things as a farmer’s market, ballroom dancing, cooking classes and to buy wellness products from vendors — any number of ways that people could gather to enjoy each other and good things in life.
“I worked my whole life for large companies, and I feel like everything I learned along the way comes back to community — being kinder and nicer and inviting people,” Anderson says. “If you look at Pittsburgh as a city, it is very community-oriented, so I think how apropos to have this in a church. People were getting together, but with churches closing down, those things are going away.”
The sanctuary area is large — around 9,000 square feet — and would lend itself to vendors and pop-ups, Anderson says. The upstairs will have a bar and space for events. “I want it to be a place where people say, ‘Did you go to The Sid?’” she says. “That’s the goal of the space. We may potentially partner with nonprofits, an incubator concept, to help people start businesses or do job training programs. … The plans are drawn; we’re picking out finishes and aligning all the people we want to have involved.”
The former St. Josaphat’s School, attached to the church, is a fourplex that is fully occupied. The deck above the apartments has a view of the city. The floor below the church sanctuary has classrooms that Anderson will convert to more living space, as well as studio workspaces. A choir loft overlooks the sanctuary, and you can still walk up to the bell tower.
Established in 1902, the church was named for St. Josaphat (Josephat Kuntsevych), a bishop and martyr born in Poland in 1580. Some of its history is captured in a booklet prepared for the church’s diamond jubilee in 1977.
“It’s been empty since 1992 but it’s in beautiful shape,” Anderson says. “It’s absolutely stunning, but they took out all of the religious stuff. If you walk in, it’s still captivating.”
When they return to Pittsburgh, ideally Anderson would like to live on the property, but “if not, we just want to come home.” Her husband, an engineer for Boeing, can work remotely; their kids will be in college,
“I love what I do,” says Anderson. “I love everything about skincare and wellness … and I was always good at fixing businesses, so I ended up consulting. When I come back home, people are so nice and everybody’s so welcoming and warm. They’re excited about the project, too.”