The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield’s biggest fundraiser of the year is underway to benefit students in need and social services throughout Western Massachusetts.

The Annual Catholic Appeal has set a goal of $3 million, with $480,000 already pledged to kick off the campaign, according to diocesan officials.

Last year’s appeal, launched at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, raised $2.56 million, an increase of $176,000 from what the diocese collected in 2019. The largest share of the donations benefit scholarships for students in need in the diocese’s 14 parochial schools.

“Our families benefit greatly from the Annual Catholic Appeal ... for many, it brings the cost of education within reach,” said the Rev. Christopher Malatesta, pastor of St. Agnes Parish, home of St. Agnes Academy in Dalton.

The appeal also supports community-based agencies, diocesan services and ministries in Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties. This year’s theme is “Sowing the Seeds.”

“Your contributions feed the hungry, clothe those in need and welcome strangers. Our reach across the diocese is not limited to those who share our Catholic faith,” William Byrne, who was installed last year as the Springfield Diocese bishop, said in prepared remarks.

But, the appeal’s largest beneficiaries are diocesan students, who include those enrolled at St. Agnes, St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams and St. Mary’s in Lee.

“Nobody is turned away from our Catholic schools because they can’t pay,” said Joseph Rogge, principal at St. Stanislaus Kostka.

In Lee, 23 St. Mary’s students received partial scholarships for the 2020-21 academic year, according to St. Mary’s parish pastor, the Rev. Brian McGrath.

“In our school, we welcome students of all faiths and races,” McGrath said.

McGrath and Rogge noted a boost in enrollment in September, increasing 25 to 30 students, to an enrollment of 110 at each school. They attribute the increase to the diocese announcing in late July that all 14 schools were going to full in-person education for the school year.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.