Seeds often produce plants that stretch deep roots into the earth. For Sr. Martha Ann Kirk, CCVI, the seeds planted by a family legacy have helped to root her devoutly in the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW).
“My mother who graduated from Incarnate Word in 1943 talked about the wonderful education she received here,” said Kirk. “She encouraged me. I not only came to be a student, I joined the convent in 1962. I discovered that I was very happy here, so I continued.”
Kirk, a professor of religious studies, maintains a close relationship with many of her students and has touched many of their lives in the process.
“I almost never go to a grocery store where someone doesn’t stop me in the aisle and say, ‘Oh you taught me and I still remember your class,’” Kirk said gleamingly.
But her connection with the university goes further than her ties with students.
Kirk, who graduated from what was then Incarnate Word College in 1968, has taught at St. Peter Prince of Apostles School, Incarnate Word High School and has been a faculty member at UIW since 1972.
“I began as Art faculty and that was a wonderful experience,” shared Kirk. “Getting a scholarship from Fordham University in New York City, I returned to do ministry, religious studies, art and drama. I cherish the many opportunities I have had here.”
After earning a doctorate in theology and art from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., she returned to UIW in 1986. While teaching, an opportunity arose to further strengthen her conviction for social justice, compassion and interfaith, core values of Incarnate Word. She is devoted to the pursuit of these values globally, palpable in her missionary work in countries such Iran, Iraq, Peru, Zambia and Mexico, among others.
“In 1995, I had an opportunity to be a scholar in residence at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem,” said Kirk. “There, I was going to write more about women of the Bible but I soon discovered that Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all parts of the Abrahamic traditions, have deep ethical roots of compassion and justice.”
Kirk said these ethical roots are nurtured at UIW and are evident in students who attend the university.
“Our academic efforts at Incarnate Word are very strong on global citizenship,” she explained. “I am happy when I see students who are concerned about racism, violence, poverty and how they are using the facts and concepts they learned at UIW to make a better city, state, nation and world.”
Kirk, who is frequently asked to write letters of recommendation, said it is a wonderful opportunity to think about how students grow and develop their gifts at Incarnate Word.
“Some students I see year after year in different classes,” she said. “I see them move from bashful, first-year students, trying to find their voices, to self-confident seniors who go out transforming professions with their knowledge, sense of commitment and sense of justice.”