Sister Barbara Ann Smelko Devotes More Than 6 Decades to Teaching & Performing Music

Over six decades, Sister of Charity Barbara Ann Smelko has traveled the country and the globe as a teacher, pianist, organist, and student of music and liturgy. Along with music ministry, she works to better her community by “transforming the world critically, creatively, and ethically where and with whom one lives.” 

A Seton Hill music major in piano with a minor in organ, Sister Barbara Ann earned a graduate degree in church music and liturgy at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. As a church musician, she has played music, directed vocal and handbell choirs, and taught students ranging from pre-school to college. 

A music and liturgy coordinator at numerous parishes and schools as well as with the Sisters of Charity, she is mindful of inclusive language when choosing hymns and prayer items for services and draws attention to social justice facets she gleans from scripture. When the Black Lives Matter movement led her to reflect on racism, she joined the NAACP, calling it “a first step in communing with my Black brothers and sisters one-on-one.” 

Sister Barbara Ann serves on the Seton Hill University Alumni Advisory Council and is on the university’s chapel organist/music team. She chairs the Sisters of Charity Provincial Environmental Team to implement Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and the Vatican’s action platform to protect the Earth. Since 2014, she has been the full-time coordinator of the Sisters of Charity Garden Project at the Caritas Christi Motherhouse, overseeing its expansion to include a Garden Shed, bat house and butterfly garden. 

Sister Barbara Ann’s proudest achievements include a two-year ministry in Kang Jin, South Korea, teaching conversational English to students of St. Joseph High School and to fellow sisters; directing the purchase and installation of a three-manual organ for Caritas Christi; and celebrating her 60th jubilee year as a Sister of Charity in 2020. As a member of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, being present for the unveiling of the historic marker at the foot of Seton Hill Drive noting the 150 years of the congregation’s service to the church and to the people of Western Pennsylvania in August of 2021, was a treasured moment.

Seton Hill University’s Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award, established in 1987, is one of the highest honors given to a graduate. Setonians have been named distinguished alumni for their leadership in education, business, science and technology, the arts, volunteerism and philanthropy.