Teamwork is alive and well in Amsterdam and Hagaman, where a deacon recently took over the administrative duties for four Catholic parishes and their cemeteries.

He's also providing financial advice for St. Mary's Institute in Amsterdam, a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school, and overseeing its maintenance crew.

If that sounds a lot, it is, says the man in charge, Deacon Michael Ryba - but the new setup seems to be securing the future of a Catholic presence in the area, and it's strengthening the spirit of collaboration forged when pastoral planning began in 2009.

That planning process resulted in two fewer parishes in Amsterdam, with three remaining today. St. Stanislaus' pastor, Rev. O. Robert DeMartinis, is also overseeing St. Stephen's parish in Hagaman.

According to Deacon Ryba, his new title, chief director of finance and administration, was implemented by the Albany Diocese over the summer as an experiment in parish management. He said it has the potential to bring stability to the community and free up priests to do the work for which they were ordained, as opposed to focusing on parish administration.

"There's a lot of possibility with the position I'm in to bring things together," he said.

So far, the deacon has set identical pricing for monuments at the seven cemeteries, established finance committees in each parish, restructured their pastoral councils and overseen the day-to-day operations of parish administration.

He meets regularly with accountants, buildings and grounds committees and other groups; oversees about 25 employees; reviews weekly bills and compares prices for church supplies; and streamlines procedures concerning issues like offertory collections.

"Quite a bit has already been done," Deacon Ryba said. "And you don't want to go in and change things drastically."

To that end, he has spent a lot of time observing and proposing ideas. He hopes the structure of each parish will eventually be similar, aiming for transparency, accountability and freedom from debt.

Achieving this means Deacon Ryba's job is more than full-time, with visits to each parish two or three times a week - "and it doesn't stop when I leave a parish," he said. "It's really hard to set a pattern of where I'll be."

He takes calls all day and answers messages after dinner. "It's an ongoing process," he said. "It doesn't leave your head."

Deacon Ryba was ordained in 2003 and served at his home parish of St. Stanislaus, as well as at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and a prison. When he retired from nearly four decades of managing the water plant for the City of Amsterdam, he transitioned into overseeing the parish's administration.

It was a natural next step to take on the other parishes this August: "I always felt I was a deacon for the community, for Amsterdam."

He's given up the nursing home ministry, although he still visits some residents. He does some marriage preparation and preaches at weekend liturgies at one of the four parishes each month.

The liturgical/spiritual part of being a deacon "is still very important to me," he noted. "The financial part is a job."

Deacon Ryba doesn't know what will happen to his position beyond his three-year contract, but thinks it's going well so far.

"I've enjoyed every moment of it," he said. "There's frustration. There's anger. There's joy. There's laughter. There's a whole mix of things.

"I cannot do this job myself," he continued. "It takes a team to make this all work. It's a great ministry and it's a great job."