ORM is not configured for the current application
Very mysterious, and took a while to troubleshoot. In my Application.cfc, in the onRequestStart method, there was a <cfset ormreload()> . I had put it there thinking that while I was doing some development it would be nice to have the ORM reloading all of time as I make changes. However, it looks like it was interfering with the ORM's sequencing, and on Ajax page loads it was causing ColdFusion to erroneously report back that the ORM was not loaded. I simply moved the ormReload to onApplicationStart, and the problem seems fixed.