Cardinal Patrick A. O'Boyle, 91, who as the archbishop of Washington from 1947 to 1973 directed the desegregation of Catholic schools here, defended church doctrine against dissident priests and presided during a period of sustained growth, died of pneumonia and kidney failure yesterday at Providence Hospital. He broke his hip in a fall on July 26 and had undergone surgery.

As archbishop, Cardinal O'Boyle was the spiritual leader of almost 400,000 Roman Catholics in Washington and the Maryland counties of Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's.

On social issues he had a reputation as a liberal who spoke out for racial justice and equality. He ordered the desegregation of Catholic schools in the archdiocese five years before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation of the nation's public schools in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

On doctrinal questions he was a conservative. He ordered suspensions and other disciplinary measures against priests who disagreed publicly with the Vatican's prohibition of artificial birth control.

"The Archdiocese of Washington has lost its founding father and first pastor," Archbishop James A. Hickey said yesterday in announcing the death of his predecessor. "The Church has lost a loyal teacher and caring servant. Washington has lost a courageous voice for racial and economic justice."

Cardinal O'Boyle was appointed Washington's first archbishop in 1947 when the archdiocese was split off from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and he was installed a year later.

For the next quarter century the suburban population mushroomed and the number of Catholics in the Washington archdiocese increased from 165,000 to almost 400,000 at Cardinal O'Boyle's retirement.

During his stewardship 46 new parishes were opened, and he oversaw the construction of 317 buildings, most notably the $30 million National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington near Catholic University, which opened in 1959.

The son of Irish immigrants, Cardinal O'Boyle often came across as a conventional Irish priest. He had a twinkle in his eyes and what colleagues described as a genuine warmth and affection for his flock, and he was an engaging conversationalist during an evening of drinks and cigars.

But he was a spiritual leader who also was a gifted administrator and a decisive leader.

During his first year here, Cardinal O'Boyle asked priests and administrators of Catholic schools to meet with him to discuss ways of desegregating the archdiocese's schools, and a process of gradual integration began in the fall of 1949.

Although there was some opposition in parts of southern Maryland with large black populations, desegregation was achieved without major incident.

At the time there were 22,000 students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese. By the time Cardinal O'Boyle retired, the number had grown to more than 44,000.

Between 20 and 25 percent of the Catholics in the Washington archdiocese are black, one of the highest rates in the country.

Several times before the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning segregation in public schools, Chief Justice Earl Warren conferred with Cardinal O'Boyle on how the parochial schools had been desegregated.

During the 1960s, when Catholic schools here and elsewhere faced extreme financial pressure, Cardinal O'Boyle kept many schools open by directing that they be subsidized from central archdiocesan funds, particularly in the hard-pressed black neighborhoods of inner-city Washington, where many of the students were not from Catholic families.

He also spoke out forcefully in support of racial justice and equality during the 1960s. Much of that era's turbulence, he said in a 1963 pastoral letter read at all masses throughout the archdiocese, resulted from "failure to act upon our Christian belief that men of all races are made in the image and likeness of God and that we are all brothers redeemed by the blood of Christ."

The dispute with priests in the archdiocese originated in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which condemned contraception. About 50 priests in the archdiocese took the position that birth control was a private matter in which Catholic couples could follow the dictates of their conscience.

The cardinal suspended dissenters from various priestly functions, and several eventually left the priesthood.

The dispute with dissenting priests was said to have been a period of intense personal anguish for the cardinal because he personally liked and admired many of them.

Patrick Aloysius O'Boyle was born in Scranton, Pa., where his father worked as a heater in a steel mill. The elder O'Boyle died when his son was 10 years old, and the future cardinal delivered newspapers and worked in a textile mill and on farms to help support the family. He graduated from what is now the University of Scranton in 1916. He studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y.

He was ordained a priest at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 1921, then spent five years as curate at a parish in a tough and tormented neighborhood of lower Manhattan.

In 1926 he was named director of the Catholic organization that helped care for dependent children in the New York archdiocese, and he spent most of the remaining years before coming to Washington in social welfare assignments.

He graduated from the New York School of Social Work in 1931, then served as assistant director of the children's division of the Catholic Charities of the New York archdiocese. Later he taught courses in child welfare at the Fordham University School of Social Work and served as director of a Staten Island home for more than 1,000 dependent children.

During World War II and immediately afterwards he was executive director of of War Relief Services for the National Catholic Welfare Conference, a worldwide organization set up by the American Catholic Bishops for relief of war victims regardless of nationality or race.

He was a consultant to New York's Cardinal Francis Spellman, then executive director of Catholic Charities of New York. When he was appointed archbishop of Washington, he automatically became chancellor of Catholic University.

In 1967, Archbishop O'Boyle was made a cardinal.

He submitted his resignation to the Vatican in 1971 in compliance with a papal directive that bishops retire at age 75, but it was not accepted until two years later. Since then he had lived in Washington.