Called to Serve Immigrants

Apostle Immigrant Services help immigrants in Greater New Haven.

L-R Erika Vergara, Sister Doretta D'Albero, and Sister Mary Ellen Burns standing in front of their offices in Fair Haven.

In 1906, a small congregation of nuns from the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus left their home in Tuscany to perform missionary work in New Haven. The United States was in the midst of a great wave of European immigration, and the Sacred Heart sisters were called to help other newly arrived Italians in need. They took in orphans, taught sewing classes, provided religious instruction to children, and assisted new arrivals with the difficult transition of starting over in a strange place.

A century later, sisters from the Sacred Heart congregation are once again helping recent immigrants find stability in Greater New Haven. Located in the former convent of Saint Rose of Lima in Fair Haven, Apostle Immigrant Services offers legal assistance to immigrants trying to navigate the dizzyingly complex immigration system. The core of their work is resolving visa issues that risk breaking families apart or are preventing individuals who are stuck abroad from reuniting with families already in the United States. Many of the clients come from horrific war zones or countries with oppressive governments.

"The stories you hear make you think twice about ever criticizing or complaining about anything," says Sister Doretta D'Albero, an accredited Bureau of Immigration Appeals representative with Apostle.

Apostle Immigrant Services was founded in 2008 by Sister Mary Ellen Burns, who worked for 19 years as a legal services lawyer in New York City. They have rapidly grown, consulting with 400 clients in 2015. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven recently supported Apostle Immigrant Services with a $26,000 grant to the "Victim to Victor" project, which provides services for immigrant victims of violent crime seeking to obtain legal status through the U visa program.

"By uniting families and normalizing their immigration status, that in itself gives people greater stability. It helps them find a better job and participate in civic life. People feel like they have a stake in this country," says Burns. "Strengthening families and strengthening communities. That's what happens here."

For more information about Apostle Immigrant Services, visit

Learn more about The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven's immigration strategic initiative here.


51 percent of the country's $1 billion startup companies had at least one immigrant founder.
Source: National Foundation for American Policy

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.