SOUTH TAMPA — A steady stream of parishioners lined up outside the sanctuary of Christ the King Catholic Church, expressing joy and sadness.
Their beloved pastor, the Rev. David Toups, had just announced during Sunday Mass that he'll be reassigned to a new position, beginning in June.
The news came as a blow to many parishioners who said the 40-year-old priest that became pastor less than two years ago re-energized their church.
Parishioners of all ages embraced him, many walking away in tears.
"Kids growing up see sports stars and movie stars as glamorous," parishioner Chris Markford said. "Father Toups has been able to do that for the priesthood. ... He brings an excitement and passion for what he does. He lives his vocation."
In addition to bringing a new, youthful zeal to the pulpit that drew many to his services, Toups initiated a capital campaign that raised $5 million. The funds will be used to build a new elementary school, replacing older classrooms on the church's current campus. Construction is expected to begin this summer.
"I really witnessed the generosity of the people of God," Toups said in an interview. "We've been able to stir up an energy of what it is to be a Catholic in the world today."
His next role will be as rector/president of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, a graduate-level school where men study to be ordained into the priesthood. Previously, he has served as dean of students at the seminary and on a national bishops' conference on vocations.
Toups, who wrote the book Reclaiming Our Priestly Character, will go from being in charge of a congregation of about 3,500 families and an elementary school to being in charge of 100 men. Still, he sees the move as a higher calling and an opportunity to influence millions as those men go on to their future parishes.
"Priestly formation is essential to the health of the future of the church," he said. "It's a very important responsibility, one that I take very seriously."
In the past decade, he said, the number of men studying to be priests has increased. Now Toups hopes his impact at the seminary will be as positive as his work at Christ the King.
"In the will of God, there is peace and growth," Toups said during his sermon.
Markford, a tax preparation specialist who lives in the Citrus Park area, said he has been on missionary trips with Toups. The priest even flew to California to preside over Markford's wedding.
"I'm excited to see what else God has in store for him," Markford said of his friend's next move.
"What he brought to the parish is something that's missing in many priests, and that's joy," said Joseph Warren, a business consultant from South Tampa. "A lot of priests are solemn and reflective. ... What people want to see is a smile on your face. It's Toups' welcoming spirit and fellowship that draws people in."
The Rev. Leonard Plazewski, a priest at Christ the King, will assume the position of pastor in June.
Elizabeth Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.