For four straight years Del. Lucille Maurer came to the Maryland General Assembly with a bill to help neglected children. She would draft, redraft and lobby the bill only to watch some committee shuffle it aside each year.

This session the bill was enacted with little protest. To her surprise, many delegates had been won over by the letter-writing campaign and lobbying of Catholic organizations in the state. "Other groups helped tremendously," said Maurer, a Montgomery County Democrat. "But for the first time we had very active Catholic support."

There was reason for Maurer's surprise. For a decade, organized Catholicism had been almost exclusively identified with two issues in the Maryland General Assembly: state aid to parochial schools and opposition to abortion.

In the past two or three years, however, the Baltimore and Washington archdioceses, the social-work oriented Associated Catholic Charities and other Catholic groups have stepped into areas where they had previously tread lightly, if at all.

They have participated in the unsuccessful effort against restoration of the death penalty in the state. Catholic lobbyists have joined the push for expanded day care funding, increased aid for foster children and improved facilities for the elderly, in addition to their support of Maurer's effort on behalf of neglected and abused children.

Not by accident, there is a pattern to the choice of issues: life, death, growing up and growing old. And not by accident, they are all related to the premier Catholic concept of the past few years: abortion. Many Catholics believe that they were, in fact, an inevitable outgrowth of the single-minded drive against abortion.

"You can't stand up year after year and support the right to life of an unborn child without a pause, without wondering how strong you support everyone's right to dignity and life - the abused child, the poor, prisoners on death row," said Del. Lee E. Green, a Democrat and Catholic from Prince George's County who led the antiabortion fight this year.

"It's abortion," agreed State Sen. Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore), a supporter of abortion who obtained Catholic support for her successful legislation setting up an office of children for the state. "In an indirect way, abortion has helped us all with child care legislation. We're had to talk about all the other problems relating to mothers and children when we talk about abortion. From the proabortion viewpoint, she said, "it's a case where "bad bedgets good."

The Catholic stand in opposition to capital punishment "is a new one and not universally accepted," said the Most Rev. J. Francis Stafford, urban vicar of the Baltimore Archdiocese. "Many Catholics have become far more reflective about the quality of life since the abortion issue has been raised. There's a very real connection between the quality of life after birth and abortion. The connection is theologically and existentially a very real one."

From the podium of the House of De legates, Speaker John Hanson Briscoe (D-St. Mary's) - a Catholic from a center of Catholicism - has been witness to the shift in voting patterns.

"It ties in. This year the Catholics are big on day care programs, foster care. If they're saying each child should be born they have to do everything they can to make sure the children survive," said Briscoe.

"One delegate plotted how much more it costs the government to support an unwanted abused child than to pay for an abortion," Briscoe said.

"That's a very crude analysis but it accentuated the need for better protection for children and help for their mothers.

"It's hard to explain abortion. Normally politicians aren't so worried about being consistent. But when a delegate gets up and says an abortion costs less than a baby, well, it's crude and affects everyone."

Few other state legislatures could be as swayed this way by the power of the abortion debate as the Maryland General Assembly. One of every three legislators is a Roman Catholic and the Right to Life movement has a decidedly less Protestant makeup than Virginia's organization.

Maryland was the only Catholic colony during the Revolution and that faith has been associated with the state ever since. Millions of American Catholics learned their childhood faith from the "Baltimore Catchechism." The only native-born American saint is a Marylander-Elizabeth Seaton, who was canonized two years ago.

In the list of religious lobbyists compiled by Maryland's secretary of state, Catholics predominate. The Associated Catholics Charities of Washington and Baltimore, the Maryland Federation of Catholic Laity and the Maryland Catholic Conference are the most active.

As in most changes, neither all Catholics nor all Catholic organizations have taken the same path. Among Catholics, the church's shift to oppose the death penalty has been the most resented.

"In my own narrow-minded way, the change didn't affect me," said Del. Charles Krysiak (D-Baltimore City).

"I grew up with the church. They've never said that (they opposed the death penalty) before. My mind's made up, I'm in favor of capital punishment."

When Maryland bishops first announced their opposition to the death penalty - timed with a national statement by Americah bishops - they were opposed by Maryland's Attorney General Francis B. Burch, who is an action Catholic. The bishops opposed it again this year - unsuccesfully. "The concern of the Roman Catholic Church for the sanctity of life requires that it continue to examine and evaluate public proposals in which human life is threatened or destroyed. It is out of this reverence for life that we are led to reflect on the issues of capital punishment . . .," read the preamble to their statement.

Few Catholic legislators reflect this evolution as much as Sen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D-Baltimore City), a Catholic from a Catholic constituency. Eleven years ago he was named chariman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the same year a bill to liberalize abortion laws crossed the committee's desk. The seven Catholics had the edge in the 13-member committee and the bill was killed.

Curran went home and spent the summer studying the issue. He came back to face another abortion bill.

This time he asked the committee to send it to the entire Senate for debat. "I askd them to voice vote it out. I realized the issued was too big for the Catholic community to decide."

After Curran offered some amendments to limit the bill, it passed with two votes to spare and was enacted in 1968 into law. Curran abstained from the final vote.

"I believe there is at least a possibility of life at conception and life should be preserved at all costs. Having done what I thought was the right thing as a legislator, I still kept unto myself the right not to vote. If my lack of voting had killed the bill it would have been a dilemma."

Maryland became one of the first states to enact liberalized abortion laws because of Curran. "Yes," he said. "I know I played a large part in that."

Curran didn't stop wrestling with the issue. As an attorney, he studied the law. As a Catholic, he considered the beliefs of his church. In the early '70s he changed his position on abortion again. "Most of the Catholic community doesn't understand," he admits. "But I feel I'm following my beliefs."

He began to vote "yes" on abortion issues, and to sponsor and endorse increased funds for maternity care, unemployment reimbursement, expanded day care services, almost any other child care bill.

"I realized that abortion was also an issue involving a person who has a need, is in trouble and can only resort to a medical procedure to solve her problem. The goverment shouldn't intervene in this very personal decision.

"Instead, we should do everything we can to convince the mother to keep the child. I addressed abortion another way - wherever you need something to bring up a child, give it to the mother. I've come a longway in 10 years."