This article examines the public claims-making and institutional arrangements of the Catholic Church through a comparative-historical study of the Catholic leadership conferences of Chile, Ireland, and Nigeria. Guided by theories from the sociology of religion and organizations, and drawing on historical and documentary sources including a content analysis of forty-two national-level pastoral letters, I document three empirical findings. First, the church appeals to national belonging more in missionary contexts than in traditionally Catholic settings. Second, Catholic religious leaders rely on secular and Catholic sources of legitimacy, but Catholic legitimations tend to predominate. Third, national hierarchies experience dissimilar resource opportunity structures in varying world geo-cultural regions. The theoretical contribution to the study of religious institutions and organizations in general is discussed in terms of taking account of specific local cultural conditions and structural contexts as well as globally resonant ideas and forms in understanding how religious power-holders respond to modernity at the national level.