A confraternity is a volunteer group which does good works, usually in the name of a church or other religious institution. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt is set primarily in Limerick, Ireland, and the level of religious fervor and expectation is high. Limerick is considered the most holy city in Ireland, says McCourt, because Limerick is the only city in Ireland that has the Arch Confraternity of the Holy Family--it is the Arch which distinguishes it from the other groups. Belonging to the Confraternity is the sign of being a good Catholic in Limerick.
One of Frank's classmates, "Question" Quigley, tells Frank he has to join, just like all the other boys whose fathers are "on the dole" (receiving government assistance). Each prefect (boy leader) is in charge of thirty other boys from his neighborhood, and it is the prefect's job to make sure each of his boys attends the Confraternity regularly and to give them a "thump" if they misbehave during prayers or the sermons.
Attendance at the Confraternity is strictly monitored. The first time one of the boys misses, someone at the administrative level wants to know why; he might even suggest that
our little friend has taken the soup. That's the worst thing you can say to any Catholic in Limerick or Ireland itself because of what happened in the Great Famine.
The second time a boy is absent, "the man in the office" sends out a yellow piece of paper, summoning the boy to the office to explain himself; on the third offense, the man sends out The Posse.
The Posse is five or six big boys from your section who search the streets to make sure you're not enjoying yourself when you should be on your knees at the Confraternity praying for the Chinese and other lost souls.
The Posse will show up at the boy's house and talk to the boy's mother; some mothers care very much, while other mothers do not care at all. The director tells the boys to pray for the latter group of mothers, for they are spiritually misguided.
The very worst thing that can happen if a boy does not regularly attend the Confraternity meetings is that Father Gorey, the director of the Confraternity, yells out his name in the middle of the street. He loudly demands to know where the offending boy lives, though he is perfectly aware of the boy's address. Franks says:
He roars because he wants the world to know you're slipping away from the Confraternity and putting your immortal soul in danger.
When this happens, the parents try not to be seen or heard, and they makes certain their sons begin attending Confraternity regularly to avoid this kind of shame and embarrassment in the future. It is a grandstanding kind of act, but it is effective.
Frank's prefect makes his message clear when Frank joins the Confraternity: he will be at each meeting, and the only possible excuse is his own death.