"In 1860, a band of soldiers from the army of Garibaldi entered the mountain village of Isola, Italy. They began to burn and pillage the town, terrorizing its inhabitants.
Possenti, with his seminary rector's permission, walked into the center of town, unarmed, to face the terrorists. One of the soldiers was dragging off a young woman he intended to rape when he saw Possenti and made a snickering remark about such a young monk being all alone. Possenti quickly grabbed the soldier's revolver from his belt and ordered the marauder to release the woman. The startled soldier complied, as Possenti grabbed the revolver of another soldier who came by. Hearing the commotion, the rest of the soldiers came running in Possenti's direction, determined to overcome the rebellious monk.
At that moment a small lizard ran across the road between Possenti and the soldiers. When the lizard briefly paused, Possenti took careful aim and struck the lizard with one shot. Turning his two handguns on the approaching soldiers, Possenti commanded them to drop their weapons. Having seen his handiwork with a pistol, the soldiers complied. Possenti ordered them to put out the fires they had set, and upon finishing, marched the whole lot out of town, ordering them never to return. The grateful townspeople escorted Possenti in triumphant procession back to the seminary, thereafter referring to him as "the Savior of Isola"."
-- from "The Chronicle of St Gabriel"; Brother William Fresconti, Naples, 2085
The Society was founded as a religious order in 2083, after almost a century of unsuccessful pressure on the Vatican to have St Gabriel (1838-1862) named as patron of handgun owners, as a means to promote good health and to teach self-defence skills to priests in an ever more dangerous world. Father Alexander White, the first chairman, said on the that day:
"As the world we live in becomes more dangerous - not just for the faithful, but for all of God's people - we must accept that our role as shepherds includes protecting the flock from wolves of a more than spiritual nature."
The society continued in this fashion until 2210, increasing in popularity, and forming an unofficial network that spanned wherever the church went. Missionaries found membership in the Society particularly useful - it is a little easier, said one, to step into new worlds when you feel you can take care of yourself - and this was an attitude that found if not favour, then at least acceptance within the Holy See. However, with the enthronement of Pope Joan, all this was to change.
Father Harold Pensmeyer was a simple man from Cincinatti, who had been fortunate enough to be in Rome for the landmark decision to appoint a woman as Pope. There were still some backwaters of the church that disapproved of the 150-year old decision to ordain women at all and it was, apparently, not a unanimous decision by any means. Outrage rang loud in conservative circles and a small number of Bishops, led by Cardinal Francesco Bernadelli, resigned from the Church en mass in protest. Riots surged outside the walls of Vatican City as supporters of the two sides met to discuss their theological positions with typical passion.
On the third day of rioting, Pope Joan herself walked out of the [main gate] to attempt to calm the crowd accompanied, of course, by bodyguards and retainers. Fr Pensmeyer was watching from a window, and watched in horror as the crowd surged forward, overwhelming the group and leaving Her Holiness in grave peril. His course was clear. Leaping from his balcony into the crowd, he took the pistols from two dead guards, recovered the Pope and fought his way back into the Vatican with a gun in each hand and the Pontiff round his shoulders. Pope Joan herself took his confession for these killings, and granted him absolution.
As a gesture of thanks to the group that had provided Fr Pensmeyer with the skills that saved her life, Pope Joan officially recognised the Society as an Order of the Church later that same day, decreeing that the post nominal "SG" would designate members in the same manner as the Society of Jesus, and that members be considered "Defenders of The Faith", with a presence installed at the Vatican to provide the Pontiff with an ordained guardian at all times to supplement the secular Swiss Guard. It is now Vatican tradition that the priest on duty is the person who gives the Last Rites when a Pope dies.
Sadly, while this was a great day for our society, it was a sad day for the Church. Many scholars argue that this was the day when events leading to the Great Schism began.
Inside the Society, little had changed - training continued as usual, albeit with a renewed vigour and sense of purpose. To the outside world, however, our position changed a great deal. Gabrielites began to admit their membership more openly in conservative areas, wearing the gold and silver lizard on their lapels in exactly the manner we do to this day, and in some parts of the world they even began to teach such subjects as range safety and gun handling. Members were seen at the front of aid convoys, helping ensure the safe arrival of supplies then helping with more traditional priestly duties as soon as that first was done. While the more civilised worlds had a little difficulty adjusting to the sight of a Gabrielite in the traditional gunbelts, for those in peril it was a vision of salvation.
The next landmark in Society history is the arrival of Father Raymond Chow at the Vatican Barracks in 2407. A former Special Forces soldier and lifelong student of martial arts who converted and came to the church late, he began an examination of the various methods of fighting that had evolved among our members with a view to creating one elegant, practical fighting style that included all weapons one might practically find in the course of one travels so that even if a member were separated from their guns they would still be able to fight as effectively. After 20 years of practice, training and teaching Father Chow unveiled "Malleus Deum" to the Grand Council - who immediately instituted it as the syllabus in the Gabrielite Training Halls of Rome and across the Federation. While it has evolved still further over the years, this is still at heart the same meditation we use at dawn, and the method we use to defend those who need us.
As with the rest of human civilisation, the Order was hit hard by the Collapse. 90% of its members died, many of them defending others. However, the Order survived, and was instrumental in rebuilding both Earth and the other worlds where its members had been stranded.
Little has changed since then, though there are many stories of members braving great danger and serving under difficult circumstances. We still wear the traditional frock coat, collar and crucifix of the Holy Mother Church along with the lizard badge, signet ring and gunbelt of the Society. Wherever we go - through war, peace, famine, plenty, Collapse or Resurrection - the Society gives help, hope and love wherever it can. We are the shepherds who stand watch at night - one eye on the peaceful slumber of our charges, and one eye carefully watching for wolves.
Father Julio Mendoza
St Gabriel Possenti Hall
21st January 2797
Priests of the society are easily recognised by their signet ring that is worn at all times and a silver & gold badge that is worn with clerical dress. The gunbelt is of black leather, fastened by a silver buckle featuring a black Maltese cross on a circular white field edged in red. Whilst the positioning of weapons is up to the individual, the belt traditionally holds two pistols (generally a matched pair), four reloads, a utility knife and a small pouch bearing a picture of St Gabriel for personal belongings.
While they appear quite serious, Gabrielites are encouraged to be happy and cheerful in their dealings with others - following the example of St Gabriel himself, who was noted in life for his charm and happy disposition.
The combat style "Malleus Deum" (The hammer of God) is designed to integrate armed and unarmed combat, and the various kata of the style reflect that. Movements are performed slowly in practice, as the meditation aspects of internal martial arts have been incorporated into the style and as such this part of the form is known as "The Prayer of Motion" or to more flippant students "Devotion in Motion". Advanced practitioners frequently follow slow practice with a repeat of the katas at full speed. This is, apparently, quite a sight to behold - for the reputation of the Gabrielites, along with their devotion to peace, means that they very rarely have to fight. Students are expected by the time they leave training and join the Society as full members to be able to shoot accurately with both hands separately and together, and engage multiple opponents in hand to hand combat. It is also encouraged that at least one bladed weapon is learned, in case technology fails in a moments of crisis. Tactics are studied, to better understand the methodology of fighting, since it is expected that they are more likely to face danger alone than as a group. This also allows them to marshal untrained forces in cases of defence.
Rules of Engagement are strictly defensive - they may only use force when their safety or that of an innocent who cannot defend themselves is at risk. Wherever possible, a Gabrielite will attempt to find a peaceful solution to a problem for they hold themselves to be servants of peace, not of battle.
St Gabriel Possenti's Day, 27th February, is celebrated by all members of the Society, who wear a small portrait of him suspended from their lizard badge (or an embroidered patch on the left breast of their flightsuit) on that day.