Longtime organist was a business exec with zest for life

Generosity of time, talent, treasure were hallmarks of accompanist Sage Ann Scheer

Roxanne King

Sage Ann Scheer, a trained classical pianist who shared her talents as organist at Denver’s Risen Christ Church for more than 40 years, died April 26. She was 71.

While most of her fellow parishioners knew Scheer as a dedicated organist, many were unaware that she had a doctorate in marketing and systems design. Throughout her career, Scheer held leadership positions ranging from senior partner to president for educational firms. Companies she served included EDmin, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, The Learning Systems Group and The University of Phoenix.

“Sage was a real lady” and “a high-powered executive,” Diane D’Aquila said about her older sister.

“She always took the high road, didn’t sing her own praises much and never said a bad word about anybody. She was incredibly generous — a big philanthropist, especially to the Anchor Center for Blind Children.… She loved to travel, loved to shop and was a spiffy dresser.”

The longtime Denver resident was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on April 12, 1948. Her family moved to Minneapolis, Minn., when she was in high school. She earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D. from The Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. She was married to Roger Scheer for 38 years until he died in 2012.

“She was really well loved,” D’Aquila said. “She and Roger didn’t have any children, but she was like Auntie Mame to nieces and nephews.”

“No one in Sage’s sphere of influence ever lacked for anything, not did anyone feel less than perfectly adored,” Scheer’s niece Alex Johnson wrote in an obituary. “Her door always was open, as was her wine cellar. She like to write long, effusive letters to her loved ones, and when her handwriting started to fail, she would type them out. She loved her dogs, her garden, and her Denver Broncos.” 

Scheer loved to laugh and have fun, D’Aquila said, but she was also a devout Catholic and a daily communicant.

“[Former pastor] Msgr. [J. Anthony] McDaid said that when he first took over Risen Christ Parish, they had to do some job shuffling for economic reasons so Sage started to be paid only for Sunday Masses, but she continued to play for daily Mass. He was so grateful.

“That was Sage. She went to daily Mass and music is a form of prayer, so why wouldn’t she play? In her mind, it was the right thing to do.”

Scheer was openhanded with her time, talent and treasure, family and friends said.

“She was so generous with her time and talent, despite working and traveling,” said Jeanne Iske, Risen Christ’s director of music and liturgy coordinator. “When she was working she would often be traveling out of town Monday through Friday, and no matter what time she got back in Friday night she would be at Risen Christ at the organ in time for Saturday morning Mass.

Plus, she would play at weekend Masses.

“She was just a wonderful person. Very committed to Risen Christ and being part of this parish. She was an organist here, but she was also a parishioner: if we needed cakes for the fall festival, she made cakes. If we needed soup for soup night, she made soup. You could count on Sage to do anything and everything — she would do it all.”

Former Risen Christ music director Bill Kittle agreed.

“She was a bright, enthusiastic, totally giving person with the biggest heart—the most loving person you’d want to meet. She was a classy person. She was ever so enthusiastic about life and about making music. I’ve never met another person quite like her, so giving of all of her talents.”

Risen Christ pastor Father Scott Bailey described Scheer as “a prayerful person.”

“In those last months as I’d visit her, she would turn the conversation to prayer and how good God is, even in her suffering,” he said.

As her sister battled cancer the last few months of her life, Father Bailey, Msgr. McDaid, parochial vicar Father Eric Zegeer, and the parish community showered Scheer with Communion visits and attention, D’Aquila said.

“The care they showed my sister is something I will never forget and will be eternally grateful for,” she said. “The cancer took its toll, but her spirit and her soul were extraordinarily healthy because of the love and prayers given her by the community. If there’s such a thing as God walks among us, I’ve experienced that [through them].”

COMING UP: A last chance for Australian justice

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My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

Photo: CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images