When Deacon Pete Schumacher began working in image processing and remote sensing – a technology that analyzes images from x-rays, satellites, or the ocean floor – he had no idea it would lead him to a personal encounter with Jesus.

In 1972, Schumacher was broke and not practising his faith when he got a job manufacturing the VP-8 Image Analyzer, a machine used by universities, hospitals, and researchers to study images.

Four years later, he was still at the job – building circuit boards, running production – when he was asked to install the machine for Air Force Academy professors Eric Jumper and John Jackson. He travelled to Jumper’s home and set up the machine, then the men slipped Schumacher an unknown photo and asked him to show them how the machine worked.

Without a clue as to what the odd-looking photo was, Schumacher placed it on the machine and turned on isometric projection, a function that analyzes light and dark sections of a photo and produces something like a 3D image. He fiddled with a few knobs, adjusted the focus, and, “the next thing I knew, I was looking at a 3D image of a person.”

The photo Jumper and Jackson had slipped him was of the Shroud of Turin, a length of linen believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. The machine, analyzing the subtle colours of the fabric, had illuminated the face of a crucified man.

“I had laid out the circuit boards for those units and delivered them all over the world,” said Schumacher. The machine “simply doesn’t do that with a photograph.”

Shocked the VP-8 could find a human face in a piece of cloth, Schumacher wondered if it had made a mistake. He did several tests, going as far as printing the image, line by line, on various pieces of cardboard, and studying the image again. Every test had the same result: the face of the “man of the shroud.”

“I wasn’t very religious at the time, and I didn’t know what the Shroud of Turin was,” he said. “I thought it was quite an oddity.”

A detail of the Shroud of Turin in Turin, Italy. (CNS / Paul Haring)

Then in 1978, a team of scientists (including Jumper) launched the Shroud of Turin Research Project and flew to Turin, Italy, for an intense, in-depth study of the linen itself. While Schumacher did not go with them, he was called upon as an adviser.

Releasing their findings in a 1981 report, the scientists said although they couldn’t work out how an image appeared on the cloth, it is “a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.”

Intrigued by the report’s findings, Schumacher felt a growing desire to learn more about that crucified man he first met on his VP-8. He eventually came to a firm belief that the Shroud of Turin does reveal the face of Jesus, and in the process, his faith was so strengthened that he was ordained a Catholic deacon in 2009.

“If we are honest, open, and exercising reason, it’s pretty hard to refute that this is most likely the burial cloth of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“You have a person who is uniquely crowned with thorns, scourged and beaten, with no broken bones, and crucified. The evidence in total, just looking at the image, is anatomically, physically correct … It could be somebody else who had exactly the same experience, but it would have to be someone who paid the same price.”

Ten years ago, in a plot twist that neither he or his wife Susan expected would be part of their retirement plan, the Schumachers opened a Shroud museum inside White Sands mall in Almagordo, N.M. The museum receives 6,000-7,000 visitors each year, attracting mall shoppers, film crews, international visitors, and researchers alike.

“There are a lot of people that come just to look specifically at the image we have, but also to look at the image analyzer to see how it works,” Deacon Schumacher said. In addition to large displays about the shroud and the image analyzing technology, there are displays on the Passion and the Rosary, encouraging those who come to get to know “the man of the shroud.”

“I’ve encountered Christ in myriad ways, or, I should say, he has encountered me in myriad ways,” said Deacon Schumacher. He is visiting B.C. at the invitation of the Vancouver Shroud Association to share his research at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Campbell River March 14-18.

Another shroud scholar, Cheryl White is also coming to B.C. at the invitation of the association this spring. Like Schumacher, White discovered a deep and growing interest in the shroud after researchers released that 1981 report.

History professor Cheryl White will speak about the Shroud of Turin at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Langley in April. (Photo submitted)

“It’s one of those rare artifacts in history that has been the subject of so much testing from all disciplines, and the more we know about it, the more we realize we don’t know,” said White, a history professor from Louisiana.

“The image itself absolutely defies our understanding. The process by which it was made cannot be replicated in any laboratory in the world by any known method,” she said.

When under intense study, “objects of the material world always give up their mysteries.” The shroud, and the many questions researchers cannot yet answer, “point to a supernatural origin.”

She had only been a Catholic for three years when she became aware of the shroud and its possibilities, and the more has she studied it, like Schumacher, the more inspired she has become.

“It has deepened my faith journey because I feel so strongly called to talk about it. It is an opportunity to talk about the Passion and Resurrection – but I don’t need the shroud to believe in the Passion and Resurrection. I would believe in them anyway.”

White will speak about the shroud at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Langley April 11-15. An international shroud conference is also coming to Canada Aug. 14-17, hosted at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont.