Nurturing Compassion at the University of the Incarnate Word: A Spotlight on Sister
Martha Ann Kirk
Rooted in a rich legacy of compassion, the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) stands as a
beacon of empathy and service in the heart of San Antonio, Texas. The University, which grew
out of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word’s first foundation in 1869, UIW has consistently
demonstrated its commitment to alleviating suffering and fostering a culture of kindness. Among
the university’s many inspiring figures, Sister Martha Ann Kirk, a professor of religious studies
and a peace activist, stands out as a shining example of compassion in action.
Inspired by the work of Karen Armstrong, a British author and scholar of world religions, Sister
Martha Ann helped San Antonians know of the 2009 launch of the Charter for Compassion, a
a global initiative that promotes the golden rule as a foundation for harmonious living. Through her
unwavering dedication to spreading the message of compassion, Sister Martha Ann has
become a catalyst for positive change, both within UIW and beyond.
Recognizing compassion as a skill that can be nurtured and developed, Sister Martha Ann
likens it to a muscle that requires regular exercise. Drawing parallels from her own experiences
as a ballet dancer and her cousin’s journey as a cello player, she emphasizes the
transformative power of consistent practice. “The more we help others,” she asserts, “the more
we develop ourselves.”
An unwavering supporter of the CompassionateUSA campaign, Sister Martha Ann has actively
utilized its resources to educate and engage diverse audiences: university students, elementary
and high school teachers, and community members. She believes engaging with the
CompassionateUSA curriculum is a form of service, as it cultivates essential skills for creating a
more compassionate society.
Sister Martha Ann’s dedication to fostering compassion extends to her work with UIW’ ‘s first-
year health professions students, starting them in the CompassionateUSA video series and
inviting them to walk the university’s labyrinth, a symbol of one’s spiritual journey. These
experiences encourage students to reflect on the neuroscience of compassion, its benefits for
individuals and communities, and the practices that cultivate a compassionate mindset.
Sister Martha Ann has had opportunities to be in over 30 countries, where she has benefited
from the compassion of those cultures. She has taught over 7000 students and mentored new
faculty for over 25 years. Sister Martha Ann is grateful for all who have taught her and can now
see them bearing abundant fruits of goodness from the seeds she has sown.
Sister Martha Ann has received numerous honors for her outstanding contributions to peace
and justice. She and the Incarnate Word Sisters were given the prestigious San Peace Laureate
Award in 2013. She has also been recognized as the Texas Pax Christi Peacemaker of the
Year and has been featured in the PBS Women, War, and Peace series as a “Teacher of
UIW’s commitment and Sister Martha Ann’s unwavering focus on fostering compassion are
testaments to UIW’s enduring legacy of service and empathy. While she has taught so many
things, she considers the two most important to be compassion and creativity. Her work serves
as a beacon of hope, demonstrating the power of individual actions to create a more
compassionate and just world.