When James Aloysius Hickey is formally installed as Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington on Tuesday, he will become the head of a complex enterprise that touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of people both in and out of the church.

As archbishop of Washington, the 59-year-old prelate becomes the legal owner of more than $330 million worth of church buildings, exclusive of the land on which they stand; the titular head of Catholic University; the proprietor of a private school system that in some areas serves more non-Catholics than Catholics; the overseer of 128 parishes, the shepherd of 397,288 faithful.

Hickey takes over an archidocese with a Catholic population only 40 percent the size of the one he left in Cleveland. Stretching from Montgomery and Prince George's counties on the north to St. Mary's County on the south, the archdiocese includes three distinct constituencies: the long-established rural families of Charles and St. Mary's counties, residents of the inner city, and suburbanites.

One in every five Washington Catholics is black, reputedly the largest percentage of blacks in any diocese.There is a growing Hispanic population, and modest parish centers for Italians, French, Poles, Ukrainians, Koreans and Vietnamese. But the Washington archdiocese is almost totally lacking the strong ethnic parishes that are the bulwark of the church in some areas.

The diversity of the church here is both a strength and a problem. And, like the church elsewhere, it is torn by numerous issues: the role of women in the church; service to the poor; the quality of Catholic education; modernization stemming from the Vatican II conclave of 15 years ago; racial issues; birth control.

"One of the biggest needs is to bring the diocese together," said Msgr. Ralph Kuehner, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Church on McArtuhr Boulevard. "The way we have been operating, each parish is on its own."

"We talk about 'the church of Washington," said Dan Curtin, quoting a phrase often used by church leaders, but there is no chance for interaction." Curtin is principal of Mackin High School, a predominantly black school that years ago endured a bitter court battle with its white neighbors to operate in the Kalorama Road area.

"One of the things I'd like to see the new ordinary (the technical term for the bishop in charge of a diocese) do is bring the church of Washington together," said Curtin, who is also past president of the archdiocesan pastoral council.

In two weeks of talking with area Catholics about their vision of the church) seemed to be enthusiasm for the new man, the conviction that he is tailor-made to lead the rich and complex church of Washington.

"There are a lot of things here that are going to make bishoping fun," said the Rev. Ray Kemp of Sts. Paul and Augustine Church.

He ticked off the assets as he saw them. 'financially, the diocese is in good shape. There's a active, articulate women's rights movement. There's a literate, well-educated Catholic population that crosses racial and cultural lines. There are a lot of priests, sisters and laity, with an awful lot of experience in running the church.

"There are 80 directors of religious education -- a job that 15 years ago was nonexistent. There are about 15 liturgy planners, about six or eight social worker types in parishes and increasing numbers involved in community organizations."

Yet despite heavy emphasis on evangelization by Cardinal William W. Baum, who was assigned a post in the Roman curia last January, the archdiocese has had a net growth of only 1,076 members in the last ten years, according to official church figures.

"Incredible numbers of people have left the church for various reasons," said Father Kemp. "There are as many baptized Catholics not going to church as going."

Joan Challinor, who teaches history at American University, describes herself and her husband, David, an executive at the Smithsonian, as "active and committed Catholics." She said: 'I do not relate to the archdiocese and they do not relate to me." The Challinors are deeply involved in a variety of roles at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown.

She charged that the church bureaucracy here "needs to stop being afraid . . . they are afraid of educated Catholics. They are afraid of Catholics that practice birth control . . . We all know the Episcopal leaders -- (Bishop) John Walker, (Bishop) Paul Moore, Dean Sayre, but I would be hard pressed to find a Catholic that knew Archbishop Baum."

Despite the Second Vatican Council's mandates, which sought to involve lay members more effectively in the running of their church, the Catholic Church is still heavily dependent for its effectiveness on its priests. In the Washington archdiocese. Priestly morale is not high.

"It depends on what group you hang out with as to whether morale is high or low," said the Rev. Francis Murphy, a priest at Chevy Chase's Blessed Sacrament parish. "I get a sense of treading water -- a lot of (priests) are involved in doing their own thing."

When they learned that Cardinal Baum was leaving, the Council on Womens Religious, representing 1,200 nuns in the archdiocese, drew up a list of qualities that his successor should embody.

"The first and most important thing the sisters looked for in a new bishop is someone who would know the priests well," said Sister Margaret Culbert, who serves as a liaison between sisters and archdiocesan leadership.

Baum was universally given good marks for his policy, during his seven years of leadership here, for not meddling in the way the priests ran their parishes.

"He was a very trusting person," said the Rev. John Scanlon of Waldorf, who heads the Senate of Priests. "And because of the way he related to priests, he let them make their own decidion. As a result they were given an opportunity to grow and develop."

But for many priests, Buam's handsoff policy translated into feelings of isolation, a number of persons said. Under the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, priests "are really working for him (the archbishop) but you got the feeling that you were out there on your own," Kuehner said. "A lot of younger priests would call and couldn't get an appointment to see one of the bishops," he said.

Msgr. John F. Donoghue, chancellor of the diocese, pointed out that Baum had divided the archdiocese into geographical regions, each headed by a vicar, in order to keep in touch with the men in the parishes. But according to priests on the line, the system didn't work.

The archdiocese of Washington has relatively few homegrown priests: it has only been an independent diocese a little over 30 years. Without its own seminary, which would offer the common ground of an old school tie, many of its priests lack roots here.

Scanlon said he thought priestly morale was "very good." He acknowleged the problems of isolation, but said that priests "know a lot of people" and that they socialize together. They also get together, he said, when one of their number dies.

Scanlon said that in the contemporary church, no parish assignments are considered plums. There was a time when there was a pecking order," he said, a "pecking order reflected in the affluence of the parish." But today's church, "the satisfaction a priest receives in his ministry is largely the satisfaction he gets in ministering to people," he said.

Kemp, who is a member of the priests' senate, offered a blunt assessment of the effectiveness of his fellow priests. "The media age of the clergy is on the rise," he said, " and a lot of them still have hang-ups about Vatican II," he said, in a reference to the monumental church conclave that decreed massive updating of the church.

The activist Kemp speculated that "25 percent of the priests (of Washington) know what's going on; 35 percent are passable, the remainder are not ready for the church that came about as the result of Vatican II . . . They are scared, lost as a result have retired into the clerical club," he said. "They're afraid of lay people; they're afraid of women, they're afraid of theology, they're afraid of scripture, they're afraid of adult religious education."

Scanlon generally was more reluctant to criticize the church here. But he said that he had been in some parishes where "on Sunday morning, you would have to remind yourself that the Second Vatican Council had taken place."

On the whole, however, he said "the church and parish life today is much richer tapestry than previously."

Catholic schools in the Washington Archdiocese have suffered the same problems of those institutions nationwide: skyrocketing costs, declining enrollments, a shortage of nuns as teachers. But according to Sister Grace Butler, immediate past president of the archdiocesan school board, local Catholic schools nationwide the mass exodus ended at about the midpoint of the past decade and enrollment has been relatively constant since 1976.

In the District particularly, Catholic schools are a significant alternative to the troubled public schools. Last year, 48 percent of the children in the District's parocial elementary schools and 25 percent of the high schools were non-Catholics; 75 percent of parochial school students in the District were black.

Mackin High School's Curtin said his greatest fear is that Catholic schools are being priced out of the reach of the people who need them most. "When I see the economic struggle of the families, the struggle just to put bread on the table. . . ."

Blacks in the inner city support Catholic schools better than people in the suburbs," chancellor Donoghue said. "Their tuition is higher and they are paying it."

A massive diocesan-wide study a decade ago proposed that the church's schools be financed on a diocesan-wide basis, instead of each parish on its own, as is the case for elementary schools. but the suburban churches, which probably would have ended up paying more, resisted and the proposal was dropped.

Instead, the archdiocese has developed a lump sum subsidy for the needy city schools, which this year amounted to $450,000, Donoghue said.

Butler, who teaches at an inner city school does not think that is enough. "I live in Sursum Corda (a low cost housing project in the District) and I am always concerned about the number of children I see around me for whom Catholic schools are not an option because the costs. I'd like to see those children identified as a real priority, recruited and the funds made available."

The Rev. Horace McKenna minces no words in critizing the church he loves for what he sees as its failures to serve the poor.

"The way the church looks to me," said the octagenarian Jesuit who is a contemporary patron saint of the poor, "is like a young man all dressed up in a silk shirt and silk cravat, but with khaki pants and bare feet.

"It thinks nothing of a million dollars for schools and all those colleges," he said in his whispery vigourous voice "but it won't give $10,000 for shelter for the homeless . . . For the poor, it is always catch-as-catch-can."

Several persons expressed the hope that recent strong statements by Pope John Paul II on the church's responsibility to help the poor might change priorities here.

Some local Catholics concerned about their church's commitment to the poor, are watching to see where their new archbishop will live. Although he is for the time being moving into the house in the Northwest Spring Valley neighborhood which Baum bought for a residence in 1976 for $210,000, some Washington Catholics hopes he will make his home in less affluent surroundings.

The official church has consistently battled racial discrimination, from Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle's intergration of church and schools long before public schools were intergrated, to Baum's forthright statements against racism and the Ku Klux Klan.

Baum also gave approval six years ago to a diocesan-funded Black Secretairat. The only democratically elected agency in the archdiocese, it functions to give voice and visibility to black grievances and to help anticipate and, it is hoped, to prevent problems before they arise, particularly in racially changing schools and parishes.

One thing the black secretariat is concerned about is archdiocesan hiring practices. Although blacks serve on the school board and as teachers, no blacks are in decision-making positions, above clerical level, in diocesan school board offices. And although the church has a black bishop, the same situation holds in the archdiocesan administrative offices at the chancery.

"We are very concerned about that," said Jacqueline Wilson, director of the Black Secertariat. "In the black community they look at what you are doing. If there are no blacks in positions where decisions are being made, they don't take you seriously."

Sister Helen Scarry's agenda for Archbishop-elect Hickey includes, understandably, a new look at new roles for women in the church. "There is untapped wealth within the ranks of the women religious," said Scarry, who heads the achdiocesan organization of sisters.

"There's a wealth of talent and a willingness to serve on many levels," she said. For example, she pointed out that there are at Catholic University sisters earning their doctorates in canon law who could serve on diocesan marriage courts.

"Our personal goal is to have sisters take over whatever role or ministry they are competent for, short of the present church law that keeps women from pursuing ordination," added Sister Culbert, who shares offices with Scarry.

She accepted the fact that "women are not going to be ordained at least for the time being, but there is a lot of scholarship and study that needs to be done to take that issue forward. In the meantime, she would like to see women in jobs they are qualified for.

It is unusual for a Catholic diocese particularly one with the stature of Washington, to change ordinaries after only seven years.

The activist Kemp appeared to speak for many Catholics when he said: "We're ready for action."